A Zimbabwean court granted bail on Friday to 26 opposition party members who were arrested for holding what authorities said was an unlawful gathering.
The arrest of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) members, including two members of parliament, stoked fears of a crackdown on opposition politicians before a crucial election this year at a yet-to-be-announced date.
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“This confirms that the arrest was an abuse of process in the first place,” CCC spokeswoman Fadzayi Mahere told journalists outside a court in Harare. “All this shows that the regime’s paranoia has reached fever pitch and they notice that they are staring defeat in the face.”
On January 14, Zimbabwean police fired tear gas at the CCC party gathering in Harare and arrested its members. The defendants’ lawyers argued that the arrests were unlawful as the gathering was at a private space.
Arguing against bail, prosecutors said the party had not sought clearance to hold the meeting. Zimbabwe laws require that political parties apply for approval from police two weeks before holding a gathering.
The arrests came after a wave of politically motivated violence against opposition supporters in rural Zimbabwe, raising fears of repression before this year’s presidential election.
CCC, led by the youthful Nelson Chamisa, will battle President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s ZANU-PF for the second time at the poll.
The opposition party, born out of the old Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), enjoys massive urban support and is seen as a threat to ZANU-PF’s 43-year-old stranglehold on power.