In a landmark decision, Zimbabwean opposition politician and former Member of Parliament, Job Sikhala, has been released after spending a record 595 days in pre-trial remand. The Harare magistrate has sentenced Sikhala and his co-accused, MP Godfrey Sithole, to a two-year, wholly suspended term for five years on charges of inciting public violence.
The charges stemmed from their alleged involvement in the violence that erupted following the discovery of the dismembered body of Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) activist Moreblessing Ali in a well, three weeks after her disappearance. The incident triggered violence in Ali’s Chitungwiza neighborhood, situated 30km (19 miles) south of Harare.
Sikhala, who was the Ali family lawyer, was accused of using social media to encourage the violence. He vehemently denied the charges, and his legal team has announced plans to appeal the conviction at the High Court.
Arrested in June 2022, Sikhala’s prolonged detention raised concerns, especially when his co-accused, Sithole, was granted bail after five months on remand. The trial magistrate, in convicting the duo, asserted that the evidence pointed to Sikhala and Sithole’s responsibility for the violence.
The case took a controversial turn as Sikhala’s numerous bail applications were denied, fueling speculations of political persecution. Sikhala claimed to have been arrested over 60 times without a single conviction, adding to suspicions of state interference.
While the recent ruling marks Sikhala’s release from pre-trial detention, his legal troubles are far from over. According to his lawyer, he still faces charges of disorderly conduct, inciting violence, and publishing falsehoods. The ongoing legal battle is expected to continue as Sikhala seeks to clear his name.
The release of Sikhala has stirred discussions about the state of justice and political freedoms in Zimbabwe, with supporters expressing relief at his release and critics questioning the fairness of the legal proceedings. As the opposition figure regains his freedom, the spotlight remains on Zimbabwe’s legal system and the broader implications for political dissent in the country.