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

  • Justice takes another beating
    IRIN News
    May 08, 2007

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

    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.

    Police arrested Alec Muchadehama, 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".

    Zimbabwe 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 until Wednesday.

    "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 of law."

    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," Moyo said.

    "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, Harare.

    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 and equally".

    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.

    President Mugabe 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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