Twenty-four Johanne Masowe eChishanu Apostolic sect members accused of assaulting police officers and journalists, have been remanded in custody by a Harare court which felt their immediate release would expose them to a violent public backlash.

Emmanuel Sigauke and 23 others, all followers of Madzibaba Ishmael Mufani, were arrested on Sunday for public violence. They all deny the charges.

The group was Tuesday brought to court under armed police escort and in leg irons. They were later remanded in custody to June 16.

They all made assault complaints against the police who allegedly fired rifles in the air during their arrests.

“When l was arrested, l was beaten up and was denied food. I only ate today when l was being brought to court,” said Sigauke in a complaint that was repeated by the rest of the group.

Francisca Mukumbiri, representing the State, did not oppose the granting of bail which elicited a strong rebuke from the presiding magistrate Vakai Chikwekwete who accused the prosecutor of “blowing hot and cold” in his handling of the widely publicised matter.

On Monday the State had ironically opposed bail when the first batch of four accused sect members appeared in court facing similar charges.

“What kind of professionalism is that?” Chikwekwete asked when the State had failed to explain why it was treating the two groups differently.

Chikwekwete said the group had made serious allegations of police assaults in his court and were ordinarily supposed to be medically examined by a government doctor who could only perform this while they were in custody.

He added: “The court is of the contrary view that the granting of bail at this stage will not only jeopardise the interest of this case but will put the accused in danger.

“In short, the court is of the view that the release of the accused at this stage may cause public outcry. We will relook at this case on the 16th of June.”

All hell broke loose when angry sect members on Friday ran amok and clubbed a group of riot cops who had accompanied Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) president Bishop Johannes Ndanga to enforce a ban on the controversial sect.

Leaders of the sect were being accused forcibly marrying out their young offspring to older members and denying them education.

Shocking images of sect members, clad in their white robes, bashing police officers were splashed in local newspapers and on social media platforms Friday.

The state says nine police officers and two ZBC journalists were injured in the attack.

Zanu PF youths on Monday staged a march to the now abandoned shrine where they burnt garments and smashed clay pots and other paraphernalia they used for their rituals.