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This week Civic Space Network collaborating with Southern Defenders, the Zimbabwe NGO Forum and Political Prisoners Africa took a deep dive to look at attacks on civic and democratic space using the legal system as a weapon focusing on the case of Hon Job Sikhala #FreeJobSikhala who has been in Pre-trial detention for over 10 months in #Zimbabwe

CSN and partners launched the publication titled Justice Delayed is Justice Denied, which documents weaponisation of the law in Zimbabwe to target a legitimate human rights defender and political activist. The case of Hon Job Sikhala bring symptomatic of trend that is entrenching itself in Zimbabwe as a deliberate state policy.

The publication details how the legal system can be subverted to become an instrument of repression and attack of civic and democratic space rather than a shield of justice and protection of fundamental rights in #Zimbabwe or any other authoritarian state.

The report gives the reader a fairly comprehensive understanding of the circumstances around the arrest and lengthy pre-trial detention of Job Sikhala in Zimbabwe, a member of Parliament for the opposition political party Citizens Coalition for Change as well as a practicing lawyer.

The report provides context of the overall operating environment for HRDs and pro-democracy activists in Zimbabwe and is a must for anyone wanting to assess the capacity of Zimbabwe’s courts to protect procedural fairness and fundamental rights in politically charged cases and especially as Zimbabwe approaches elections in July/August 2023.

Job Sikhala was arrested on the 14th of June 2022 together with fellow opposition Parliamentarian, Godfrey Sithole and 14 residents of Nyatsime, a densely populated suburb of Chitungwiza in Zimbabwe. Everyone else except Sikhala are out on bail which immediately begs the question why isolate Job Sikhala from the rest of fellow accused’s.

The report notes that Chikurubi Maximum Prison where Job Sikhala is detained, is generally overcrowded, dilapidated, and has poor sanitary conditions, making prisoners vulnerable to infectious diseases.

CSN & partners Southern Defenders, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and Political Prisoners in Africa are increasingly concerned about the phenomenon of judicial persecution and the abuse of the legal system (“lawfare”) to close civic space and to target HRDs & those with dissenting voices in #Zimbabwe and encourages the authorities in Zimbabwe and in particular the Judiciary and the National Prosecuting Authority to introspect and assert their independence and impartiality.

Civic space besides being the oxygen that HRDs need is necessary so that people can organise, mobilise, intervene and transform societies said Executive Director of Southern Defenders Mr Washington Katema

The right to fair trial which is guaranteed by the Criminal Procedure rules, the Constitution of Zimbabwe and international instruments binding on Zimbabwe can only be realised when there is procedural fairness said Arnold Tsunga of CSN

CSN and partners offered the critique of breaches of procedural fairness within the context of judicial independence and judicial accountability which are two sides of same coin if anything is to go by what CJ Malaba, CJ Chidyausiku and Justice Makarau have consistently said per Arnold Tsunga – CSN

When Zimbabweans separated the National Prosecutorial function from the Attorney Generals office in 2013, it was to establish, secure and guarantee the independence and impartiality of the NPA. That has failed. Per Arnold Tsunga CSN

The independence and impartiality of the NPA is a precondition to guarantee the right to fair trial and to prevent instrumentalisation of the prosecuting function to target HRDs and threaten civic space – per Arnold Tsunga CSN

While the constitutional framework for independence and impartiality of the NPA is adequate, it is undermined by legislation on criminal abuse of office used to target independent prosecutors for retribution – per Edward Mapara Law Society of Zimbabwe

Hon Job Sikhala is facing persecution and retribution because he merely sought for justice for the killing of Moreblessing Ali and demanded her decent burial – in short protecting her rights to dignity. per Prof Adriano Chairperson Southern Defenders (insert pic of Job’demand)

When we sacrificed and supported Zimbabwe’s independence as Frontline States, it is because we wanted freedom and enjoyment of fundamental rights and civic space by all Zimbabweans – Per Prof Adriano Chairperson Southern Defenders

The incarceration of Job Sikhala is a sharp reminder for me of the incarceration of my husband #ThulaniMaseko for two years for also demanding justice. Regrettably they went on to kill him with impunity as happened to #ItaiDzamara in Zimbabwe- per Tanele Maseko, widow of slain human rights lawyer of #Swaziland

Civic and democratic space offline and online, physical or virtual needs to be protected in order to foster a culture of effective civic participation and engagement in our societies in Africa.

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