Without explanation, he was placed in a white Toyota, registration number AAP 4851, and was then transferred into a silver Toyota Vigo, registration number 3595, to be driven to Mutare, accompanied by three members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP). The driver of the vehicle was the notorious Detective Inspector Eliot Muchada, who purports to act currently as the Officer-in-Charge of the Law and Order section at Harare Central police station, and who was intimately involved in the abduction cases involving Chris Dhlamini, Gandi Mudzingwa and others, as well as the recent persecution of members of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise and lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).
Muchada was accompanied by one Chief Superintendent Nhau and another officer whose identity is still being confirmed. Muchada gave regular telephonic updates to, and received further instructions from, his superior, the Officer Commanding Law and Order Harare, Assistant Commissioner Mabunda during the course of the trip to Mutare.
Bennett is currently in his fifth day of detention in conditions which amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. In addition, the charges against him continue to be changed in a clear sign that the original "arrest" was not in compliance with the constitutional requirement that police may only arrest a person where there is evidence and a reasonable suspicion based on such evidence that an offence has been committed.
The charge initially was under the Immigration Act for attempting to leave the country illegally, which was denied. Police then withdrew this and a charge of treason was then suggested. Again, this was denied. The charge was then changed to contravention of section 6(1) of the Public Order and Security Act, allegedly for acts of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism through the disruption of an essential service. A warned and cautioned statement was recorded in this regard on Sunday 15 February 2009. On Monday 16 February 2009, police preferred a second charge of contravention of section 25(1) (a) of the Immigration Act, for alleged failure to report to an immigration officer at a port of exit. A second warned and cautioned statement was recorded in this regard.
Despite the paperwork being in order before 11:00hrs on Monday, Bennett remained at Mutare Central police station and was not taken to court. Lawyers were advised that the Investigating Officer, Detective Chief Superintendent Makone, who had traveled from Bindura to Mutare, had now been called to Harare. The veracity of this cannot be confirmed, particularly as Bennett’s lawyers in Harare who attempted to find Makone were told he was definitely not in Harare.
A Warrant of Further Detention was issued without notice to Bennett’s lawyers in Mutare, by Provincial Magistrate Billiard Musakwa on Monday 16 February 2009 and Bennett was returned to cells. He and his lawyers were then told on Tuesday morning that the charges had again been changed, and he was made to record a third warned and cautioned statement in relation to a charge of contravening section 10(1) of the Public Order and Security Act for allegedly possessing weaponry with the intention of using it in connection with acts of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism. Again, he denied the charge.
Bennett is currently in court before Provincial Magistrate Livingstone Chibadza. Originally, the matter was due to be heard before Billiard Musakwa, but Bennett’s lawyers sought and obtained his recusal, as the Warrant of Further Detention which he issued without the knowledge of Bennett’s lawyers will be challenged in court.
Bennett’s lawyers have placed on records complaints relating to their treatment by members of the ZRP (lawyers were threatened with guns which were cocked and pointed at them, before being forcibly removed from the police station on Friday 13 February 2009 and Saturday 14 February 2009 when they attempted to access their client) and requested that the complaints be investigated. The court will resume at 14:00hrs with Bennett’s lawyers making an application for refusal of remand on both charges (section 10 of POSA and section 25 of the Immigration Act).
This farcical behaviour on the part of the ZRP and representatives of the Attorney-General’s office clearly indicate that the arrest and detention of Roy Bennett was carried out and is being perpetuated maliciously, and in an attempt to harass, intimidate and frustrate not only Bennett, but also his lawyers and his fellow MDC members who are now part of the inclusive government. The continued attacks on legal practitioners who are merely attempting to protect their client’s rights and perform their professional duties must also once again be condemned in the strongest of terms.
It is regrettable that the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC) and the MDC hierarchy have not provided the public with clear information as to what they are doing to resolve the situation and what assurances (if any) have been given, so that it becomes clear who is resisting Bennett’s release from unlawful detention. If this was done, it would be easy to correctly ascribe responsibility to a specific individual or institution who remain intent on destabilizing the newly-formed government and the hopes of ordinary members of the police force, the courts and the public, who want stability and peace so that politicians and all others can focus energy on addressing the grave challenges facing the country without hindrance.
Until such time as such blame can be properly placed, it will be assumed by all right-thinking persons that the Commissioner-General of Police and the Attorney-General are responsible for the continued unlawful detention and persecution of Roy Bennett, through their overzealous foot-soldiers as previously named.
Where constitutional obligations are defied, perpetrators must be disciplined, and they must be disciplined swiftly. ZLHR thus demands that the individual named officers and superiors, as well as the responsible authorities, be called to account by the Executive - and publicly - for their dangerous actions. Punitive disciplinary measures must then be enforced, to ensure that those who seek to retain their positions and power through unlawful means are not allowed to remain in office for one more day. This is purportedly a "New Zimbabwe" – we demand action which shows this is not empty rhetoric. Whilst our fellow citizens remain detained and their rights continuously abused, none of us are free to focus on the task of rebuilding our country and restoring its dignity.