Masters student held on treason charge misses graduation

A Zimbabwean masters student and civil society activist has been charged with treason for allegedly planning to unseat President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

Stabile Dewa (34), an Africa University student and employee of the Women's Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence, was absent when her colleagues graduated at the institution of higher learning last week as she was locked up at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.

Her lawyers, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, confirmed that Dewa was supposed to graduate with a Masters in Peace, Human Rights and Governance at Africa University but was arrested on 28 May at the Robert Mugabe International Airport with six other human rights activists as they landed from the Maldives where they had attended a workshop.

Dewa was finally granted bail by the High Court on Monday, with stringent conditions including reporting daily at a local police station.

According to the state-run newspaper, The Herald, prosecutors allege that Dewa and the others underwent a training workshop organised by a Serbian non-governmental organisation called Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) with the intent to subvert a constitutionally elected government of the Republic of Zimbabwe.

Acts of terrorism

The state also alleges they were taught the basics of counter-intelligence and acts of terrorism. It is further alleged that during the workshop, the accused were trained on how to mobilise citizens to turn against the government and to engage in acts of civil disobedience and-or resistance to any law during national protests by anti-government movements.

It said they were also trained on how to operate small arms and evade arrest.

It is alleged that on 27 May, they were intercepted and arrested upon arrival at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport while returning from the Maldives.

In a statement, Human Rights Watch said under Section 22 of Zimbabwe’s Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, the charge of “subversion of a constitutional government” that Dewa and the others were facing is a charge of treason and carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Former Zimbabwe national students’ union president Makomborero Haruzivishe was one of the people who went to welcome Dewa as she walked out of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.

“These charges are cooked up and Stabile Dewa in purely innocent. The charges are a result of a paranoid and failed government that views influential scholars and human rights defenders as a threat to its continued repressive existence,” Haruzivishe said in an interview.

“Seeing her walk out of Chikurubi made me feel assured that the truth will indeed set Stabile Dewa and her six co-accused free. They are not guilty of the treason charges and the state has no evidence against the Zimbabwe seven.”

CANVAS also issued a statement on the arrests denying that the Zimbabweans had been trained to unseat the government.

Advocacy and capacity building

It said the workshop focused on advocacy and civic engagement capacity building and included such topics as developing a shared vision of tomorrow; civic engagement; effective communications; protecting privacy and security; and organisational planning.

CANVAS said for a decade and a half, its mission has been focused on the fact that non-violence is morally and ethically superior to violence and more likely to produce constructive outcomes and build strong and stable societies.

“During the workshop, the state-controlled newspaper, The Herald, published an article that falsely accused participants of plotting to unleash violence in Zimbabwe in a bid to overthrow the government. CANVAS would like to inform Zimbabweans and the international community that the charges against these activists are blatantly false,” it said.

Human Rights Watch said since the beginning of 2019, the government of Mnangagwa, which has promoted itself as the “new dispensation” that respects basic rights following ex-president Robert Mugabe’s dramatic resignation in November 2017, has arrested and prosecuted several peaceful activists on baseless charges.

The human rights organisation said activists facing charges of subverting the Mnangagwa government and awaiting trial include Pastor Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag movement, Peter Mutasa and Japhet Moyo, leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and Rashid Mahiya, the chairperson of the group Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.