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  • Index of articles on the mistreatment of the legal profession in Zimbabwe

  • Human rights lawyers finally released on bail
    Violet Gonda, SW Radio Africa
    May 07, 2007

    Visit the special index page on the mistreatment of legal professions in Zimbabwe

    Human rights lawyers Alex Muchadehama and Andrew Makoni were finally released Monday evening after spending three days in police custody. The lawyers who were arrested on Friday, were being held despite two court orders ordering their release, which was granted by Justice Tedius Karwi.

    The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said not only was the arrest unlawful but ". the continued contempt of court orders by the police has become an everyday phenomenon, and no person is safe from those who are constitutionally obliged to protect the people of Zimbabwe. Such actions cannot be tolerated or condoned in a democratic society." Advocate Eric Matinenga said, although the two were not physically abused, Muchadehama was held at the notorious Matapi police station under inhumane conditions. They were both denied access to their lawyers. They are scheduled to go back to court Tuesday.

    The two lawyers are the main legal representatives for the 30 opposition MDC members who are accused by government of a string of petrol bomb attacks. Defence lawyer Muchadehama argued that several of his clients were already in detention when the alleged arson attacks took place. Muchadehama and Makoni were arrested on Friday afternoon on allegations of obstructing the course of justice in the case of Amos Musekiwa and others who are facing the arson charges. Advocate Matinenga described the allegations against his clients as "absolute rubbish."

    The arrest was followed on Sunday by a raid of the lawyers' offices in Harare where documents protected by the attorney-client privilege were seized. It's reported that ZLHR lawyers who attempted to prevent the seizure of the privileged documents were physically threatened by the police and warned that they 'would be next.' The rights group says the lawyers' families were also being threatened by suspected state security agents. The ZLHR said: "The wives of the two lawyers receive two anonymous calls on two different occasions, and the calls were both threatening the families of the two lawyers saying that they were going to be dealt with ruthlessly and that their husbands will meet the same fate."

    We also received unconfirmed reports saying Makoni's wife was briefly arrested on Monday. We could not get a comment from the police. Political commentator Dr. Stanford Mukasa said the arrest is just an extension of the suppression of freedom of expression and human rights lawyers are now being treated like enemies. He said lawyers have been amplifying the brutality that is being done by the government, and this is making the regime uncomfortable. "They have challenged intellectually and on legal grounds.,and the regime has not been able to defend itself." Dr Mukasa said lawyers have shown 'what a farce, what a circus the cases by the regime are against the opposition movement."

    Meanwhile there has been an outcry from Zimbabwe and abroad. The ZLHR called on the authorities to "immediately cease the molestation, use of threats, mental torture and interference with privacy, family and home of Mr. Muchadehama and Mr. Makoni." Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA) said: "We are witnessing an extremely worrying turn in the rule of law situation in Zimbabwe. Mugabe's government has escalated attacks on political dissenters in recent weeks and no effective international action is being taken to stop the flagrant violation of international law in that country. Lawyers who denounce these attacks on fundamental freedoms and defend victims are now targets."

    The IBA urged the Zimbabwean authorities to respect their international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter for Human and Peoples Rights and called on Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) leaders to act. Professor Mukasa says the Mugabe regime is no longer capable of reasoning and argues for the revival of the strategy of mass action. He says this would be the only effective and non-violent confrontation with the increasingly brutal Mugabe regime. The commentator said there are only two other alternatives; engaging in a guerilla-armed struggle or to sit and wait. Mukasa said: "These are two extreme alternatives, and neither is acceptable."

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