A Zimbabwean court acquitted seven leaders of the country’s main trade union coalition arrested ahead of an anti-government protest last year, lawyers said on Thursday.
The seven Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) leaders, including union president Peter Mutasa and secretary general Japhet Moyo, were arrested before an October protest march over the country’s economic woes.
They had pleaded not guilty to public violence charges and have been acquitted, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said.
Harare Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa freed the union leaders, saying the prosecution had failed to prove a case against them.
“Magistrate Mugwagwa ruled that there was no indication that there was an intention to cause violence – given that the unionists were arrested at the ZCTU offices while preparing to participate in a demonstration,” the lawyers said.
The magistrate said police officers testifying against the unionists claimed they had seized placards bearing “offensive” messages but failed to link them to the seven, ZLHR said.
Zimbabwe’s economy has been on a downturn for over a decade with a critical foreign currency crunch hampering production, leading the country to import basic goods including fruits and vegetables.
The ZCTU blames the economic troubles on state profligacy and bad policymaking and has led protests to prompt the government to address the economic problems which have hit the poor especially hard.
Last January, the union coalition called protests after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a more than 100% hike in fuel prices which triggered price increases for most goods and services.
The government reacted by deploying troops to crush the protests leading to the death of at least 17 people.