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

  • Zim police assault protesting lawyers
    Mail & Guardian (SA)
    May 08, 2007

    Armed police violently broke up a demonstration of lawyers wearing traditional legal gowns outside Zimbabwe's High Court on Tuesday and took several away and beat them, the independent Law Society and witnesses said.

    One group was corralled on to a truck and taken to open grassland in the Eastlea suburb of Harare, where they were made to lie on the ground and were assaulted, said attorney Beatrice Mtetwa, head of the Zimbabwe Law Society.

    Afterwards, some were being examined for injuries by doctors at a private clinic in northern Harare, she said.

    During the lunchtime demonstration in downtown Harare, some of the lawyers, in white court collars and other legal attire, were struck with riot sticks as they argued their rights against orders to disperse.

    They were protesting against the arrest and detention of two of their colleagues on Friday for allegedly obstructing the course of justice in their defence of opposition activists.

    A senior police officer, using a bullhorn, warned the group of about 30 lawyers that their protest was illegal under a ban on demonstrations in the Zimbabwe capital.

    Riot police, some armed with automatic rifles and shotguns, pushed and jostled the lawyers, hitting out at them.

    It was not immediately clear whether any of the protesters were being held under arrest in a continuing clampdown against those seen as opposing the government.

    The lawyers pleaded their rights to gather and march peacefully to the nearby Parliament House, but squads of police were ordered to disperse the group.

    Last month, President Robert Mugabe repeatedly told supporters demonstrations would not be tolerated and police had the right to crush dissent and "bash" perpetrators of unrest.

    Two attorneys who specialised in human rights issues and were defending jailed opposition activists accused of petrol-bomb attacks were released from police cells Monday after being arrested on Friday.

    Police ignored two High Court orders to release them over the weekend. Alec Muchadehama (41) and a partner in the same firm, Andrew Makoni (36), were charged Monday with obstructing justice and freed on bail.

    State prosecutors alleged the attorneys submitted "falsehoods" to a Harare Magistrate's Court on April 30 over one alleged gasoline bombing in western Harare.

    The two maintained a fire at ruling party offices in the township of Mbare may have been accidental or set deliberately to blame opposition activists.

    They said scarce gasoline and kerosene was stored at the offices.

    Prosecutor Austin Muzivi also alleged the two lawyers "lied" that a key witness trumped up charges against government opponents.

    Plain-clothes agents searched the two lawyers' offices after their arrest on Friday and combed through client files in breach of client-attorney confidentiality, colleagues said.

    Muchadehama, most prominent for representing activists and victims of state-orchestrated violence, was held at Matapi police cells in western Harare, one of the nation's harshest jails, and was denied warm clothing and even a blanket, said Eric Matinenga, an attorney acting for him.

    Night temperatures drop to near freezing in Zimbabwe's southern hemisphere winter.

    Matinenga said court orders issued by Judge Tedius Karwe and Judge Alfas Chitakunye over the weekend found no reason for the continued detention of the lawyers arrested in the course of their professional duties.

    Both orders to immediately free them were served on police but ignored, he said.

    Police and state officials in Zimbabwe, including Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, have frequently ignored court orders and although contempt of court proceedings have been filed, none has been concluded.

    Attorneys, human rights activists and independent journalists have been accused of backing a Western campaign led by Britain, the former colonial power, for the ouster of President Robert Mugabe (83), who has ruled since independence in 1980.

    The government claims the opposition Movement for Democratic Change mounted a Western-backed campaign of terror and subversion that included a series of 11 gasoline bombings, charges the opposition denies.

    At one court hearing, Muchadehama submitted that his clients could not have committed one bombing cited by the state because they were already in jail at the time.

    Opposition leaders insist the bombings were orchestrated by state agents to justify the arrests and assault of activists and clear the way for the possible imposition of a sweeping state of emergency as the nation faces deepening political and economic turmoil.

    Inflation last month reached a record 2 200%, the highest in the world, and the country is facing acute shortages of hard currency, gasoline, food, medicines and most other basic goods. -- Sapa-AP

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