A High Court order barring the media from covering proceedings of the case involving four men accused of attempting to overthrow the Government through unconstitutional means was ruled as null and void by Harare provincial magistrate Mr Vakayi Chikwekwe.
The ruling comes after the director of Military Intelligence successfully obtained a High Court order to have the proceedings held in camera.
Zimbabwe People’s Front political party president Owen Kuchata (34), Borman Ngwenya (30), Solomon Makumbe (29) and Silas Pfupa (37) are facing treason charges.
The quartet allegedly established a militia training base in Mapinga, Mashonaland West Province, where they planned to commit terror acts, sabotage and banditry.
Pfupa and Makumbe are attached to 1 Field Regiment and Zimbabwe Intelligence Corps, respectively.
According to the order by Justice Lavender Makoni, members of the public including members of the media “shall be excluded from the proceedings arising from CRB 1838/41 except for the parties’ witnesses and their legal representatives.”
“Any oral, written, transcribed or electonically stored record of proceedings including the present urgent chamber application, State papers, defence outlines, pleadings and trial proceedings and any ancillary and inter locutory proceedings shall not be accessible or made available to any person save for the parties and their legal practitioners,” said Justice Makoni.
Justice Makoni also ordered that the record of proceedings both in the urgent application and any matter arising from the case should not be disseminated or reported in any media whether private or public, manual or electronic mail or by Internet.
However, Mr Chikwekwe did not agree with the order of the High Court and dismissed it as of no legal effect arguing that the Higher Court should not interfere with the independence of the lower court.
“An application of this nature must have been made first in this court which is seized with this matter. From a legal perspective, the purported order by the registrar of the High Court Mr Msipa is wrong at law.
“This court is seized with the case at this stage and is not subject to any direction by the registry. It is a properly constituted court and it enjoys judicial independence like any other court,” he said.
He added: “The conduct of the registrar of the High Court and the purported order is a nullity. It is tantamount to interference with the independence of this court enshrined in the Constitution. It is also tantamount to directing the court to convict or acquit. This is not proper. The order is not legally binding and amounting to interference and usurping the powers of this court.”
Pfupa and Makumbe are being represented by Mr Tapiwa Madiki, while Ngwenya and Kuchata are self actors.
Mr Madiki submitted the order to the court which cited director of Military Intelligence as the applicant while Makumbe, Pfupa and the Prosecutor General were cited as respondents.
The quartet was remanded to March 1.
The prosecutor, Mr Sebastian Mutizirwa alleged that sometime in August 2015, the accused persons met at Queens Hotel in Harare where they hatched a plan to unseat a constitutionally elected Government through force.
Sometime in December 2015, Kuchata and Ngwenya proceeded to Mapinga, where they identified a suitable location to establish a militia training base, it is alleged.
It is the State’s case that they planned to commit terror acts, sabotage and banditry from that camp as a way of forcing President Mugabe to surrender power.
On January 1, this year, they allegedly proceeded to President Mugabe’s rural home in Zvimba where they carried out reconnaissance identifying suitable vulnerable points to sabotage.
It is alleged the four held several meetings at Queens Hotel mapping strategies on how they would strike. In one of their meetings they conspired to carry out attacks using fertiliser bombs to overthrow the constitutionally elected Government of Zimbabwe.
Police received a tip-off that the four were planning to bomb Alpha Omega Dairy’s processing plant and tuckshop during the night.
The dairy’s processing plant and tuckshop are located at Gushungo Dairy Estate, Jumbo Road in Mazowe.
Acting on the tip-off, the police proceeded to the farm and laid an ambush about 100 metres from the quartet’s target.
At around 10pm, the detectives saw the men approaching the processing plant and immediately arrested them.