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Index of articles on the mistreatment of the legal profession in Zimbabwe
takes another beating
May 08, 2007
the special index page on the mistreatment of legal professions
HARARE - The
detention of two lawyers for providing legal counsel to members
of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party is the
latest attempt by the ZANU-PF government to undermine the rule of
law and victimise practitioners representing the opposition, legal
experts have said.
Condemnation of the arrests
came on Tuesday as the Law Society of Zimbabwe, which represents
the country's legal fraternity, organised a protest march in the
capital, Harare, but a lawyer told IRIN that heavily armed police
had prevented the protest from taking place.
41, and Andrew Makoni, 36, late on Friday afternoon outside
the High Court as they tried to submit papers opposing efforts by
the state to prevent the court from granting bail to their clients,
who are facing charges of banditry and terrorism. The lawyers have
been charged with obstructing the course of justice.
The two men spent the
weekend in jail and were released on bail on Monday, despite a High
Court ruling on Saturday that they should be released immediately
as they had been arrested unlawfully. The police defied the order
and then raided the lawyers' offices on Sunday, saying they were
looking for "subversive materials".
Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) described the internment of
the lawyers as "inhumane". The lawyers were accused by
the police of lying in the bail application, after stating that
although their MDC clients were being charged for the petrol bombing
of ZANU-PF offices, the real culprits in the arson were supporters
of the ruling party.
The lawyers appeared
in the Harare magistrate's court on Tuesday, seeking to have their
case dismissed, but the presiding magistrate deferred the decision
"We strongly condemn
the arrest of the lawyers, especially considering that they were
carrying out their duties lawfully," Sternford Moyo, president
of the Southern Africa Development Community Lawyers Association,
told IRIN. "Conduct such as this [by the police] is inimical
to an independent legal profession, which is, in itself, a prerequisite
for effective delivery of justice and the observance of the rule
He said the government
had violated its own constitution and the United Nations Convention
on the Rights of Lawyers, which provides for the free discharge
of duties and the right to legal representation, which he described
as cornerstones of justice and democracy.
"When lawyers are
arrested on flimsy charges, those whose rights might have been violated
- the so-called suspects - are left without a remedy, and the government,
in accordance with its own laws and international expectations,
has an obligation to make sure that the legal system is not hindered,"
"If that right is
not observed or guaranteed, then the administration of justice will
be rendered ineffective," Moyo told IRIN.
Welshman Ncube, a lawyer
and secretary-general of one of the MDC factions, called the arrests
of Muchadehama and Makoni "bizarre".
"The charges against
the two lawyers are desperate and it boggles the mind why the police
would choose to arrest lawyers who were clearly performing their
duties, as every other lawyer would do the world over," Ncube
told IRIN. "Lawyers have a duty to make arguments on behalf
of their clients when applying for bail, and all the two did was
to state that the suspect involved was denying the charge, and to
have them behind bars for doing that is incredibly unjust."
Ncube said instead of
the police arresting the lawyers, they should have left it to the
courts to decide whether or not to refuse the suspects bail. One
of the 13 people languishing in police custody is Paul Madzore,
the member of parliament for Glen View township in the capital,
Before the lawyers were
arrested on Friday, home affairs minister Kembo Mohadi issued a
ministerial certificate barring the court from granting bail to
the suspects, alleging that the defendants had undergone military
training in South Africa and would interfere with police investigations
if they were released.
However, the two lawyers
had argued that "The ministerial certificate produced by the
minister is senseless, unlawful and ineffective. It was irregularly
issued and is improperly before the court."
Ncube accused the government
of intimidating and harassing lawyers through the police, and said
"the arrest of those responsible for the delivery of justice
indicates the collapse of Zimbabwe in respect of human rights observance".
The lawyers have been
representing 13 MDC members arrested on 28 March for allegedly petrol
bombing a passenger train, police stations and supermarkets in various
parts of the country.
In a statement earlier
this year, ZLHR called for the total independence of the legal system,
as it is "the cornerstone of any democratic society and is
protected in various international agreements, including the United
Nations Basic Principles of the Independence of the Judiciary ...
to curtail arbitrariness and ensure that the law is applied fairly
This is not the first
time the government has been accused of victimising members of the
judiciary that it considered too critical of its policies. In 2000,
the government launched its fast-track land reform programme to
redistribute land from white farmers to landless blacks, but the
Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay, ruled in favour
of the ejected farmers that the land occupations were unconstitutional.
launched a verbal attack against "white judges". Gubbay,
whose office was at one time invaded by war veterans accusing him
of favouring white farmers, resigned his post the following year.
He was one of the eight white High Court and Supreme Court judges
who resigned from the bench in just three years from the time the
land invasions started.
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