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Statement regarding imprisonment and mistreatment of Zimbabwean MP Roy Bennett
Bar Council and Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
November 06, 2004

The 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.

"The 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.

Mr 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.

After 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 and buttocks.

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.

The 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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