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Charges against MMPZ staffers reduced

UPDATE: MMPZ staffers removed from remand (MISA, 2 May 2012)

(MISA/IFEX) - Gwanda magistrate Sheila Nazombe on 24 January 2012 threw out two of the three charges that against Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) personnel Molly Chimhanda, Fadzai December and Gilbert Mabusa.

This followed an application for refusal of further remand by their lawyer Kossam Ncube who argued that the state had failed to prove reasonable suspicion they had committed the offences in question.

They were being charged under section 25 of the Public Order and Security Act which criminalises the organising of a gathering without notifying the police. The other alleged offence fell under section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act which deals with undermining the authority of or insulting the president, as well as section 37 of the same Act which outlaws distribution of materials likely to breach peace - in this case they had distributed DVDs of a film.

In her ruling, the magistrate noted that the trio were not obliged to notify the police of the event since the gathering was not a public meeting. She also observed that the three did not distribute any threatening material intending to provoke the breach of peace, which prompted the dropping of the second charge.

However, Nazombe upheld the prosecution's affirmation that the information contained on the DVDs was likely to undermine the authority of or insult the president, hence the retention of that charge.

If convicted on this count, the trio will be liable for paying a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year, or both. The case was remanded to 7 February 2012.

The three were arrested and detained by police in Gwanda on 5 December 2011 in connection with a community meeting on public information rights held on 24 November 2011 in Gwanda. They were only released on 16 December after High Court judge Justice Nicholas Mathonsi ordered their release on bail following a dismissal of an appeal by the state against their admission for bail.

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