Prominent Harare lawyer Advocate Thabani Mpofu was arrested on Tuesday accused of obstructing the course of justice over a tweet published in September.
Mpofu attended Harare Central Police station by appointment with his lawyer and was formally charged over comments he made criticising fast-food outlet Chicken Inn for allegedly aiding the prosecution of three female MDC Alliance activists accused of faking their abduction and torture.
“I have been charged with obstructing the course of justice, it being alleged that my tweet meant to obstruct the course of justice in the MDC trio case,” Mpofu told ZimLive from the police station.
Mpofu was later released after a warned and cautioned statement was recorded, according to his lawyers Harrison Nkomo and Oliver Marwa.
Mpofu put out the tweet in September after the release of a Zanu PF propaganda video purporting to show that Harare West MP Joana Mamombe and activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were in fact walking free at the time they said they were in police custody in May this year.
The narrative was based on grainy CCTV footage purportedly showing a vehicle used by the three women parked outside a Chicken Inn fast food outlet in Harare.
Mpofu stated in a tweet on September 13: “The problem with Chicken Inn is not that it released CCTV footage, rather that it availed its name and facilities in aid of a fraudulent effort. This immoral, unethical and completely senseless gesture is what has appalled right-thinking people. Search your conscience Chicken Inn.”
Lawyers for the three women say the purported CCTV evidence is part of an elaborate cover up after the abduction and torture of the women sparked international outrage, including condemnation from the United Nations.
The three women were reported missing in May after taking part in a demonstration against food shortages that have left half of Zimbabwe’s population of 15 million famished. They were arrested at a roadblock and initially the police confirmed they were in custody but later denied knowing their whereabouts.
The women said after being taken into Harare Central Police Station, they were later hooded and bundled into a private car and driven by unknown men to a forest where they were shoved into a pit and terrorised, including being forced to eat human excreta and having guns shoved in their privates.
Following two nights of terror, they were abandoned at dawn in Bindura where a local heard their cries for help and raised the alarm.
The women’s torment is not untypical of what critics of President Mnangagwa’s regime have come to fear. The southern African state has a dark history of enforced disappearances of opponents. Itai Dzamara, a journalist who was abducted in 2015, is still missing.
Despite his claims to be a “new broom”, Mnangagwa has demonstrated even less tolerance of political rivals than his late predecessor, Robert Mugabe, since seizing power in November 2017. Women often bear the brunt of his security agents’ savagery. – ZimLive