By Tatenda Dewa | Harare Bureau |
The trial of #ThisFlag Pastor Evan Mawarire at the Harare magistrates court on Wednesday has probably broken a number of records in the history of the Zimbabwean justice system.
Mawarire, the charismatic preacher behind the #ThisFlag campaign that helped mobilise Zimbabweans to protest against President Robert Mugabe’s government in recent days, was arrested on Tuesday and taken to court on Wednesday.
Initially, he was charged with inciting violence but that shifted to the more serious allegation of attempting to subvert a constitutional government.
That is the first first.
Zimbabwean police who usually arrest people to investigate are notorious for changing charges once a person is under their custody.
However, it is probably the first time that a warrant of search and seizure has been issued out against a suspect on a charge that is completely overhauled on the way to court.
Yesterday, the police obtained a warrant that specified that Mawarire had a police truncheon and helmet as well as other materials that he had allegedly used to incite violence during protests that rocked Harare and other parts of the country within the last one and half weeks.
That piece of paper was completely thrown out the window as the police remembered a more serious offence to nail the pastor on — treason.
Not even Morgan Tsvangirai who in the early 2000s was also tried for treason comes near Mawarire where legal solidarity is concerned.
Tsvangirai might have hired a prominent South African lawyer, George Bizos, to lead a strong defence team then, but the lawyers who turned out in solidarity with Mawarire are good for the Guinness Book of Records.
Besides the defence team that went inside the court to directly deal with the Mawarire case, more than 30 other lawyers milled around the Rotten Row courts.
It would appear as if Mawarire was a member of the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
It is also probably the first time in Zimbabwean trial history that a magistrate was forced to plead with the defence lawyer to go and address agitated citizens outside.
When the trial resumed in the afternoon, the magistrate asked Harrison Nkomo to go and give an update of the trial to the thousands of people who had thronged the court premises to follow the trial.
That was apparently meant to mollify the crowds, most of them citizen activists.
But that was still a puzzling decision on the part of the magistrate, because lawyers are supposed to represent their clients, not address crowds.
Arguably, not even Morgan Tsvangirai, despite his widespread popularity as the leader of the opposition MDC then, managed to attract crowds as big as the one that turned out on Wednesday. Nehanda Radio