ZLHR wins release for Gwanda villagers in land case

Sixty-one villagers from Nyandeni in Gwanda, accused of occupying state land, were freed due to lack of evidence.

Gwanda Magistrate, Talent Phiri, who had remanded the villagers out of custody until Tuesday, placed them off remand and said the matter would proceed through summons if the State acquires evidence.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights lawyer Jabulani Mhlanga represented the villagers.

The villagers were part of a mass arrest of 180 people conducted by the Zimbabwe Republic Police on February 7, 2024.

ZLHR noted that the State had no case against the villagers and that remanding them was unnecessary.

“The 61 villagers, who reside in Nyandeni community in Gwanda, had been scheduled to stand trial at Gwanda Magistrates Court after they were arrested by the police on February 7 during a mass arrest & charged with occupying gazetted land without lawful authority,” ZLHR reported.

“Prosecutors alleged that the villagers unlawfully occupied land at Hollins Block Estate in Gwanda, which is gazetted land. Initially, the 61 villagers were arrested along with 119 others, who included very old people, people in their eighties, seventies, sixties, and youths. However, the 119 villagers were released, leaving the 61 facing prosecution.”

ZLHR said Magistrate Phiri ruled in favour of the defence and placed the villagers off remand.

“The villagers’ ordeal came to an end on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, when Gwanda Magistrate Talent Phiri removed them from remand after their lawyer Jabulani Mhlanga of ZLHR challenged further remand. Mhlanga argued that the facts presented in court by prosecutors did not disclose an offence or link the villagers to the alleged crime,” ZLHR continued.

“Magistrate Phiri agreed with Mhlanga and ordered prosecutors to proceed by summoning the villagers to court if they intend to prosecute them again. The Gwanda villagers are among several people recently arrested by ZRP officers and charged with occupying gazetted land without lawful authority, a charge they all deny. Most argue they were occupying their ancestral land.”

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