SALC is concerned about the criminal charges laid against human rights lawyer Doug Coltart who was summoned to the Harare Central Police Station on the 28th April 2019 and was charged with ‘participating in gathering with intent to promote public violence, breaches of the peace or bigotry’ under Article 37 of the Criminal Code. His laptop was seized without a warrant and held without legal cause for three days during which time his law firm experienced a cyber-attack. It is believed that the cyber-attack was an attempt to hack into the law firm’s confidential data.
This followed the abduction, interrogation and assault of four teachers from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) which occurred on the 27th April. The teachers, Robson Chere, Jess Drury, Precious Ndlovu and Munyaradzi Ndawana have also been charged under Article 37 of the Criminal Code. Coltart is a board member of ARTUZ and appears to have been arrested in this capacity. SALC is deeply concerned about the harassment of Doug Coltart, Robson Chere, Jess Drury, Precious Ndlovu and Munyaradzi Ndawana.
Members of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) were acquitted of public violence charges in 2018 under these same charges. In that case, the state sought to crush anti-government protests being organised by the ZCTU. This section of the penal code has previously been used to target journalists and human rights activists.
We call on the Zimbabwean government to respect the rights to freedom of association and assembly of these persons and call for all charges against them to be dropped. We recall that President Emmerson Mnangagwa has earlier in the year threatened lawyers who provided assistance to activists. We are concerned that the Zimbabwean state is acting in an autocratic manner with little respect for human rights. Zimbabwe will never be “open for business” for as long as it remains intolerant of dissenting views from Zimbabwean citizens and fails to respect their right to protest. Advocating for dissenting views is not promoting violence or bigotry, it is an essential part of participating in an open and free democracy.