A 24-year-old former National University of Science and Technology (NUST) student who was arrested for undermining the authority of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa on a WhatsApp group, saying the Zanu PF leader is ‘sick’ and that he lacks ‘patriotism’, has been acquitted.

Rujeko Hither Mpambwa, who was arrested in August 2020, has been on trial since July 2022.

She was charged with undermining the authority of, or insulting, President Mnangagwa in contravention of section 33 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Prosecuting authorities had alleged that the ex-NUST student had made an abusive, indecent and obscene statement when she allegedly criticised Mnangagwa’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 2020, which the Zimbabwe strongman delivered in Parliament and broadcast on national television.

While presenting the state case, Caren Musiiwa told Kariba Magistrate, Tapiwa Banda, that Mpambwa posted a comment denigrating President Mnangagwa on a WhatsApp group titled Kariba Hard Talk.

“He is busy forwarding the Vision 2030 Agenda. He is sick. He should keep quiet about patriotism. He is making us angry,” reads the message attributed to Mpambwa.

The court also heard that an aggrieved member of Kariba Hard Talk, a Samu Mawawo, then informed police officers, who subsequently arrested the varsity student.

Police officers are also said to have seized Mpambwa’s Huawei mobile phone, before sending it to Criminal Investigations Department’s National Cyber Forensic Laboratory, who extracted her message and compiled an examination report, which was presented in court as an exhibit.

She was represented by Unite Saizi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).

In his ruling, Banda cleared Mpambwa of wrongdoing, saying that the context of her message was not clear.

The court ruled that the “messages were plucked out from other messages, which were not retrieved from her mobile phone and as such the context in which they were allegedly sent was unclear.”

Banda also added that Mnangagwa’s SONA did not appear fully on the exhibits produced in court and hence the court could not therefore work on speculation when all the alleged offensive words were not retrieved.

In defense, the ZLHR said:

“What purportedly linked Mpambwa to the alleged offence was the name “Emasoni,” and the court could not speculate that the said word refers to the President”.

Since Mnangagwa assumed power through a November 2017 military coup, hoardes of Zimbabweans have been arrested, prosecuted and persecuted on allegations of undermining the authority of or insulting the President.

During the iron-fisted 37-year-tenure of his longtime master and late Zimbabwe leader, Robert Mugabe, hundreds of people in the economically-troubled nation were docked for denigrating the country’s president.

Under the landlocked southern African nation’s debatably draconian laws, it is an offense to criticise the Zimbabwe president.