Eight Harare women who were arrested for allegedly loitering for the purposes of prostitution were recently acquitted after Rotten Row Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa dismissed the charges.
Report by Cecilia Kamuputa
The eight, Rachel Mutapuri (31), Talent Bvuma (16), Tanaka Shava (15), Tendai Makuyana (28), Cindy Mangachena (20), Sekai Dhliwayo (29), Shamaine Munetsi (23) and Evelyn Agusto (32), were arrested at Tipperary’s Night Club on June 28, 2013 under the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP)’s sting operation dubbed ‘Operation Amai Ngwenya’.
The accused, represented by Trust Sengwayo of Tsara and Associates, denied the charge and pleaded not guilty.
“I was arrested whilst leaving the bathroom alone when I had gone to Tipperary to meet a business colleague”, said accused one, Rachel Mutapuri. “The officer who arrested me told me that they had a target to reach and that I was helping them reach that target of women arrested per night.”
Mutapuri said she was not in any direct or indirect communication with any other patron in the establishment at the time of her arrest and did not act in any manner that could be reasonably conceived as approaching or entreating any male for purposes of sex.
The defence argued that the word ‘Loitering’ did not exist, that the offense used to reside within the now repealed Miscellaneous Offences Act and that for the court to prove the accused guilty, there was to be the other person solicited to stand in as a witness, which in this case there was none.
A screen grab of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Law) Act.
In passing her judgement, Magistrate Mugwagwa said she agreed with the defence in the second aspect and since the solicited person was not there to be the witness, the accused had to be discharged.
Upon being arrested, the eight had contacted the International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights Trust (IHLRT), an NGO that focuses on the enforcement of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, to acquire legal assistance.
The IHLRT then instructed Tsara and Associates to represent the accused persons, with the fees covered by the trust under its Women Rights Enforcement Programme.
The Project Co-ordinator and Legal Advisor, Batanai Tuwe said the ruling has far-reaching legal consequences for police and women in Zimbabwe.
“The ZRP can no-longer arrest any woman only upon allegations of soliciting; they must arrest the man too, or bring the man allegedly asked for money or sex to the courts as a witness.This eliminates sting operations and raids on bars”, said Tuwe.
He also said women could now sue for compensation in the Constitutional Court through the IHLHRT.
This Operation is not a new phenomenon as the ZRP has a history of carrying out various sting operations on women patronising bars and clubs as well as walking in the streets, accusing them of contravening Section 8 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform Law) Act, Chapter 9:23 :loitering for the purpose of prostitution.
The following time line shows a history of theses operations:
Following these clampdowns, in June 2012, women activists took to the streets, protesting against the police.
Women’s rights groups also filed a formal petition to the Ministry of Home Affairs with the Home-Affairs co-minister Theresa Makone publicly calling for an end to the sting operations.