By Thabani Zwelibanzi
Serbian organisation, Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (Canvas), which is in the eye of a storm over claims that it was secretly training a group of Zimbabweans to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration, has responded strongly to the allegations, saying the charges were “blatantly false”.
In a statement, Canvas said the workshop that the seven activists, who are in remand prison, attended in Maldives focused on advocacy and civic engagement capacity building such as developing a shared vision of tomorrow; civic engagement; effective communications; protecting privacy and security; and organizational planning.
“Canvas would like to inform Zimbabweans and the international community that the charges against these activists are blatantly false,” the organisation said in a statement.
George Makoni, Nyasha Frank Mpahlo, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura, Farirai Gumbonzvanda, Stabile Dewa, and Rita Nyampinga were arrested on subversion charges and allegations that they had been trained in handling small arms and how to dodge arrests among a host of other charges.
They were denied bail by the Harare Magistrates’ Courts and have since applied to the High Court for bail.
In rather uncharacteristic fashion, a judge said he would rule on their bail ruling in a week. The ruling is expected to be delivered on Friday.
Canvas said for the past 15 years, their mission was focused on the premise that nonviolence was morally and ethically superior to violence, and more likely to produce constructive outcomes and build strong and stable societies, hence, they were confounded by the arrests of the Zimbabwean activists.
“The arrests clearly violate provisions of the Zimbabwean Constitution on freedom of assembly and expression, and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights,” the organisation continued.
“Basic universal principles of due process, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and conducting an unbiased investigation before arrest need to be upheld.
In addition, Canvas advised that the arrests flew in the face of claims that Zimbabwe was improving its human rights record, saying the country will not be seen by its citizens and the international community as democratic or law abiding.
Canvas called on the Mnangagwa administration to “immediately and unconditionally release the seven activists and follow the rule of law”.
“Participation in a workshop with a focus on peacebuilding and nonviolence should never be considered a crime, as the practice of nonviolence and peaceful assembly are fundamental human rights,” the organisation said.
A story by The Herald that there was a group of activists, including a NewsDay journalist, training in the Maldives to topple the Zimbabwean government, set in motion a bizarre chain of events leading to the activists’ arrests.
There has been a widespread outcry following the arrest of the activists, with Amnesty International calling on the Zimbabwean government to release the group now famously known as the Zimbabwe 7.