Reprieve as Zim Court Overturns Conviction of Residents Find for Violating National Lockdown Regulations While Seeking to Purchase Medication

A ZIMBABWEAN court has overturned the conviction of two Mutare residents after they successfully challenged the decision by some Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) members to order them to pay RTGS$1 000 as fine for unnecessary movement during the national lockdown period.

Precious and Privilege Gwatidzo, who are twin sisters and based in Mutare recently petitioned the Mutare Magistrates Court seeking an order to set aside their conviction and to be refunded the fine which they paid to ZRP on 12 April 2020 after they were arrested and charged for unnecessary movement during national lockdown period as defined in section 4(1)(a) of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order, 2020.

Precious and Privilege, who are residents of Dangamvura high-density suburb in Mutare, were arrested on 12 April 2020 after they left their home with the intention to purchase some prescribed medication at a pharmacy for their grandmother, who is chronically ill.

Although Precious and Privilege had in their possession a supporting letter from their local Councillor confirming that they had an ailing member of the family who needed urgent medication, the ZRP members at Dangamvura Police Station could not entertain their request and proceeded to arrest and detain them overnight without pressing a charge against them.

The twin sisters were only advised of the charge the following day, it being alleged that they contravened section 4(1)(a) of Statutory Instrument 83 of 2020 Public Health (COVID-19 Prevention, Containment and Treatment) (National Lockdown) Order, 2020, which prohibited unnecessary movement of people during the national lockdown imposed by government in March in a bid to combat the spread of coronavirus.

While in police detention, Precious and Privilege were denied access to sanitary wear and were only released from custody after paying a fine of RTGS$500 each.

With the assistance of human rights lawyer Moses Chikomo of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Precious and Privilege wrote a letter of complaint to the Officer in Charge of Dangamvura Police Station registering their displeasure in the manner in which the law enforcement agents had conducted themselves after apprehending them.

The twin sisters also challenged their conviction and the imposition of fines against them by ZRP members and this was granted by Magistrate Sheila Nazombe.

In her ruling, Magistrate Nazombe stated that she was satisfied that the plea of guilty entered by Precious and Privilege when they were arrested in April was equivocal.

The Magistrate ordered ZRP members to refund the total fine amounting to RTGS$1 000 paid by Precious and Privilege and also directed ZRP members to compile a docket and bring the twins sisters to appear in court for a proper hearing and determination of their matter.

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights