By Nomalanga Moyo
HARARE – Detained MDC-T polling agent Morgen Komichi’s latest bid for freedom was on Monday turned down by Harare Magistrate Tendai Mahwe. Komichi’s lawyers had launched a fresh bail application last Friday, citing ‘changed circumstances’.
This followed three previous unsuccessful attempts to secure Komichi’s release.
Presiding Magistrate Mahwe ruled on Monday that Komichi was likely to abscond given the seriousness of the charges against him. Komichi’s lawyer Alec Muchadehama told SW Radio Africa on Monday that he will be appealing the magistrate’s bail ruling at the High Court on Tuesday.
“Each time both the State and the court keep coming up with new reasons to deny the accused person bail. Now they are saying with the trial under way, Komichi is likely to abscond as the witnesses are giving evidence that is likely to frighten him,” the lawyer said.
“They also claim that the likelihood of a prison term should he be convicted may cause him to abscond. The magistrate agreed with the State and dismissed the application,” Muchadehama added.
The magistrate then proceeded with the main trial, which saw Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) official Shamiso Chahuruva taking to the witness stand.
Muchadehama expressed frustration at the latest bail ruling, adding that the slow pace with which the trial was proceeding was all the more reason that Komichi should have been granted bail.
About 15 witnesses are set to testify during the course of the trial and, at the current pace, this may mean a long spell in remand prison for Komichi. Since his arrest on July 28th, Komichi has been locked up at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, after Magistrate Anita Tshuma threw out his first plea for bail.
Komichi, a high ranking MDC-T official who was also party leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s polling officer, is facing electoral fraud charges. During his arrest, he was accused of tampering with an envelope containing ballot papers meant for a police officer that were allegedly retrieved from a rubbish bin.
The MDC-T says Komichi responded to an anonymous tip-off that some ballots had been dumped in a bin located at the Harare International Conference Centre, which was being used as a Special Vote processing centre.
Komichi then passed the ballots on to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), which, however, responded by lodging a police complaint and the fraud charge.
At his first bail hearing, Magistrate Tshuma ruled that the police needed time to probe the identity of the whistleblower – now known to be one Michael Phiri. Phiri’s existence has since been verified by ZEC official Tendai Pamire while being cross-examined by Muchadehama during the ongoing court proceedings.
The magistrate had also raised concern that freeing Komichi close to the July 31st election was likely to cause disorder, but his lawyers argued that reason has also been overtaken by events.
Lodging his latest bail plea Friday, Muchadehama said: “Time has progressed to enable this court to consider bail. Time is a factor to be considered as a new circumstance. The evidence which is being led in that trial does not frighten the accused to abscond.”
Meanwhile, magistrate Mahwe on Friday acquitted two other MDC-T election agents who were facing voters’ roll theft charges. Anna Bvute and Phillip Mabika were arrested on July 30th, on suspicion that they had stolen the voters’ roll from Tauyanarwo Makuza, the Budiriro constituency elections officer.
Following their arrest, the police told journalists that the two had committed the offence with the intention of discrediting ZEC and the electoral process.
But attempts by the police to besmirch Bvute and Mabika crumbled Friday when magistrate Mahwe ruled that the State had failed to prove its case against them – and set them free. Lawyers representing the two argued had argued that prosecutors had failed to prove their clients’ guilt and applied for discharge, which was granted. SW Radio Africa