A Bulawayo magistrate Monday granted Standard reporter, Nqobani Ndlovu, $100 bail, but the state immediately invoked section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to deny him his freedom.
This means Ndlovu will spend the next seven days in remand prison.
This section, viewed by many as draconian, has been used to deny freedom to prominent bankers and businesspeople charged with externalisation of foreign currency in the past.
The state’s actions were immediately condemned by Ndlovu’s lawyer Josphat Tshuma who viewed the move as a means to “fix” his client.
Tshuma castigated the state for invoking the section denying Ndlovu freedom, saying it was tantamount to abuse of office and a travesty of justice.
Tshuma made the remarks to journalists soon after magistrate Sibongile Msipa granted Ndlovu bail.
Some of the conditions were that Ndlovu should reside at his given address and not interfere with state witnesses, but the prosecutors would have none of that and immediately invoked section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act through Trust Muduma.
Bail was forfeited pending an appeal against Msipa’s ruling.
“For the state to invoke Section 121 in a case which has an option of a fine is abuse of office. I am very disappointed by the state’s conduct and it can be viewed as travesty of justice.” said Tshuma.
He said although Ndlovu was remaining in custody for now, he was happy that he was not in the hands of the police.
“His security is not in danger if he is in prison,” Tshuma said. “At least he is not in the hands of the police. However, the worst thing that has happened to my client is that he has lost his freedom which is his constitutional right. I am now going to meet the state and hear how soon they want to make their appeal against his granting of bail because it should be now. That is what I have to hear from them and see how we can proceed.”
In her ruling, Msipa said the state had failed to give cogent reasons to deny Ndlovu bail.
“The state has failed to give enough reasons why the accused should be denied bail. The issue that the accused is a flight risk will not hold water as the accused handed himself over to the police in the company of his lawyer. If he was a flight risk, he could have easily done so on hearing that police had interviewed Dumisani Sibanda (NewsDay Bulawayo bureau chief).The other issue raised by the State that he was facing a serious offence, that alone could not be good enough to warrant denying accused bail without being accompanied by other cogent reasons,” said Msipa.
The new development came as a blow to Ndlovu’s prospects of freedom, as he had as of yesterday already spent six days in custody, two of which were in police cells and the remainder in remand prison.
Police were reluctant to take Ndlovu to court arguing they also wanted to interview Ndlovu’s editor, Nevanji Madanhire, who is based in Harare.
Ndlovu was arrested on Wednesday in Bulawayo in connection with a story published in a Standard issue which spoke about retired police officers and war veterans being recalled to occupy vacant top posts in the force to direct operations during the next polls.
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists president Dumisani Sibanda said the organisation was now mounting a “Free Nqobani Ndlovu’’ campaign as it was clear that the case was a calculated move to harass and intimidate journalists.
Sibanda described laws that criminalise journalism as a profession as “barbaric and belonging to the Stone Age” and called upon legislators to review such legislation if democracy is to flourish in the country.