Five prominent Zimbabwe war veterans arrested earlier this year in a crackdown on critics of President Robert Mugabe, appeared in court Tuesday for insulting the 92-year-old leader.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) spokesman, Douglas Mahiya, and four executives briefly appeared before a Harare magistrate for authoring a highly-critical statement accusing Mugabe of “dictatorial” behaviour.
Mugabe, in power since 1980, has faced a groundswell of opposition and calls to step down in recent months as the country’s moribund economy collapses.
The leaders of veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war were not asked to enter their pleas and the hearing was postponed to Wednesday.
Defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa hinted to the court that the five will contest the charges.
“There is no offence disclosed by that document,” she said of the statement issued in July.
“It was referring to the president of the (Zanu-PF) political party,” but not the state president.
In the statement, the veterans of the 1970s independence war, previously loyal to Mugabe, bitterly denounced the head of state.
They vowed not to support Mugabe if he stands for re-election. The ruling Zanu-PF has already endorsed Mugabe as its candidate for the 2018 elections.
The mounting protests against Mugabe’s government have been prompted by anger over a deepening economic crisis that has left banks short of cash and unemployment at over 90 percent.
In July, a one-day strike over the economic crisis shut down offices, shops, schools and government departments.
Tuesday’s court hearing followed the abduction and beating of six activists last week by unknown assailants after they called for mass protests against Mugabe and his government.