Jailed activist seeks freedom

Lawyers representing Otilia Sibanda who is serving a six-year jail sentence after she was convicted for public violence during the January shutdown protests last year have filed an appeal against her conviction at the High Court.

Sibanda was convicted alongside Josphat Mzaca Ngulube, Fortune Masuku and Melusi Moyo on charges of burning three cars and property at a house belonging to Zanu PF Bulawayo provincial women’s league boss Eva Bitu.

Her lawyer, Kucaca Phulu of Vundhla, Phulu and Partners, went on to file the appeal at the High Court without accessing Sibanda’s records from the state despite making the request four months ago.

But the lawyers did register their disappointment to Bulawayo Provincial Magistrate Elias Magate, about their delay to release Sibanda’s records.

In a letter dated March 4, 2020, to Magate, Phulu said they had tried “numerous times to obtain the record of the above-mentioned matter in the last four months but no avail. It is very disappointing that we have received no response at all despite our efforts to communicate with your office.”

Sibanda’s defence team had previously written to the Clerk of Court ( February 3, 2020), noting the same and argued the delay in availing the state papers was denying her the right to appeal and bail pending appeal. 

The letter to the provincial magistrate said the state’s conduct was unconstitutional as it infringes several Sibanda’s constitutional rights, who was now sick.

“Our client is seriously ill and as communicated before we need the record for her appeal. We have had to file an application for Bail Pending Appeal without the record as this matter is of urgency and it has become a matter of life and death,” read the letter.

“It is common cause that the National Prosecuting Authority must also have sight of the record to efficiently prepare responses to our Application and we have been disabled by your office to favour them with the same. We are hoping henceforth we are going to get cooperation from your office so that justice is not only done in this matter but be seen to be done.”

In his response, the provincial magistrate said it was unfortunate that previous efforts referred by  Sibanda’s defence counsel were “never brought” to his attention.

“It was improper for our Clerk of Court to fail to respond to letters directed at him,” Magate said.

He claimed the transcription of Sibanda’s record was now complete but the court printer was out of order.

“We have since secured another printer and we undertake to have the record ready for inspection by 2 pm Friday the 6th of March 2020,” he said. 

The provincial magistrate said the court would make sure “dilatoriness” by the clerk of court will not recur in future.

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