HARARE – Harare Magistrate Elijah Makomo yesterday postponed the trial of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Abel Chikomo, facing charges of running an “unregistered” organisation.
The trial was postponed after a top government official, Sydney Mhishi, failed to show up in court to testify as a State witness.
State prosecutors sought a postponement in the high stakes trial to Friday after informing magistrate Makomo that Mhishi, who is the director of Social Services in the ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, could not avail himself for court proceedings as he was attending a funeral.
Mhishi, who during police investigations tendered two letters to the Zimbabwe Republic Police “outlawing” the activities of the non-governmental umbrella organisation, will be the State’s second witness after Constable Chengetai Mugidwa whom the State led evidence from on November 13 when Chikomo’s trial commenced after numerous false starts.
Chikomo, who is represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights board member, Selby Hwacha, was arrested in 2011 on charges of contravening Section 6 (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act (Chapter 17:15).
It took more than two years for him to be tried. Prosecutors allege that his organisation conducted some activities without being registered with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act.
The charge, which Chikomo denies, came after the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum conducted a survey on transitional justice in Harare’s Highfield high density suburb. Prosecutors charge that the survey was illegal since the organisation was not registered as a PVO.
The State claims Chikomo unlawfully instructed two of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum’s employees to commence or carry out a survey in Harare’s Highfield suburb with the intention to obtain people’s recommendations on the preferred transitional justice mechanism for Zimbabwe, without his organisation registering with the Social Welfare Department under the PVO Act.
However, in his defence, Chikomo argues that he was wrongly charged and that the Forum was not a private voluntary organisation which requires registration under the PVO Act.
Through his lawyer, the human rights defender, argued that Section 2 of the PVO Act exempts “anybody or association of persons, corporate or unincorporated the benefits from which are exclusively for its own members.”
He maintained that the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum is a forum, association and common law universitas of 20 member organisations.