HARARE Magistrate Elijah Makomo on Tuesday 19 November 2013 postponed to Friday 22 November 2013 the trial of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum executive director Abel Chikomo on charges of running an “unregistered” organisation after a top government official, Sydney Mhishi, failed to show up in court to testify as a State witness.
State prosecutors sought a postponement of the high stakes trial to Friday 22 November 2013 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 Mugidwafrom whom the State led evidence from on Wednesday 13 November 2013 when Chikomo’s trial finally commenced after numerous false starts.
Chikomo, who is represented by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights board member, Selby Hwacha, was arrested in 2011 and his case on charges of contravening Section 6 (3) of the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Act (Chapter 17:15) took more than two years 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 conducted by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum was illegal since the organisation is not registered as a PVO. The State claims that 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 organization 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 is 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.