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regarding imprisonment and mistreatment of Zimbabwean MP Roy Bennett
Bar Council and Bar Human Rights
Committee of England and Wales
November 06, 2004
following statement was made by Peter Carter QC, Chairman of the
Bar Human Rights Committee, and Stephen Irwin QC, Chairman of the
Bar Council, at the Bar Conference on Saturday 6th November
2004. The statement was endorsed by Ross Cranston QC, MP, Chair
of the Bar Group of the British Parliament.
Bar Council and Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
condemn the imprisonment and degrading treatment of Zimbabwean Member
of Parliament, Roy Bennett. Mr Bennett's offence, which the Bar
Council and Committee in no way condone, was to shove Justice Minister
Patrick Chinamasa during a parliamentary debate in May.
Bennett's one year
sentence of imprisonment with hard labour for such an offence
is unprecedented and fundamentally unsafe. The sentence was recommended
by a parliamentary committee and confirmed by a parliamentary vote.
Mr Bennett was given no right of appeal or other recourse to a court
of law. The Speaker of the Zimbabwean Parliament is reported to
have obstructed efforts to have the sentence set aside by a court
of law. The Bar Council and the Committee note the arguments of
Zimbabwean lawyers and human rights groups who point out that a
typical sentence for common assault in a Zimbabwean court of law
would have been a fine.
To any non-partisan observer,
the process by which the sentence was imposed violates the right
of any person to be tried by an impartial tribunal. So too does
denial of right of appeal to any court. If Parliament proposes to
act as a court, it must comply with the minimum standards of justice
and fairness that apply to criminal process (including contempt)
in international law and in every municipal system that honours
the rule of law, namely the right to
an impartial tribunal and the right to have an order reviewed.
the sentence was imposed, Mr Bennett's location within the Zimbabwean
prison was kept from his legal representatives. When they did locate
him, they found that Mr Bennett, a family man, had been stripped
and clothed in a soiled prison garment that exposed his genitalia
The Bar Council and the
Committee deplore such flagrant and degrading mistreatment of a
prisoner and urges the Zimbabwean parliament and prison authorities
to condemn and bring to an immediate end any mistreatment.
Bar Council and the Committee reiterate that violence can play no
part in a democratic process. However, Mr Bennett's sentence is
disproportionate to his offence and has not been tested by normal
judicial process. The manner of his treatment in prison gives rise
to the gravest concern.
The Bar Council and the
Committee urges the Zimbabwean parliament to condemn any mistreatment
of its Member Mr Bennett and to afford him immediate recourse to
an impartial court of law."
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