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Illegal and forceful deprivation of property and intimidation of lawyers
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
December 18, 2006

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) was recently requested to respond to reports that state agents operating in Gokwe and claiming to be from the President's Office had illegally taken radios from teachers working in the area.

It was alleged that Mr. Mlotshwa and Mr. Emanuel D Takadiyi, working in the President's Office at Government Complex in Gokwe went to Simbe Primary School sometime in November 2006 where they are said to have produced a list with names of teachers who had been given "Ranger Freeplay" radios by the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ).

The two state agents, identifying themselves as coming from the President's Office, proceeded to demand that three teachers at the school, Mr Herbert Chigu, Mr. Innocent Mugwagwa and Mr. Elijah Maramba, hand over the radios to them, claiming that it was a national issue.

Following the demands and threats of the two agents, Mr. Chigu and Mr. Mugwagwa handed over their radios, while Mr. Maramba was told to bring his radio when schools opened as he had taken it to his village.

On the 2nd of December 2006 the same two state agents proceeded to Njelele Secondary School to forcefully take a similar radio from another teacher, Mr Tadius Masuka. Mr. Masuka's wife, who was at home at the time, in her husband's absence, was ordered to hand over the radio, which she did.

In response to this clearly unlawful conduct and violation of human rights ZLHR deployed two lawyers from the Rapid Reaction Unit to provide legal assistance to the affected teachers in Gokwe. On Friday 16 December 2006 Rangu Nyamurundira and Dzimbabwe Chimbga of ZLHR attended at Gokwe Magistrates' Court and filed an Ex Parte Application for Spoliation Order, Case No. GL190/06. A provisional order was granted to the effect that:

The Respondents (the two state agents) and all those acting through them are hereby ordered to return to the 1st and 2nd Applicants their radios upon being served with a copy of this application and provisional order.

The provisional order also required that the Officer-in-Charge at Gokwe police station or any other police officer under his authority serve the Application and provisional order on the two state agents. Assistant Inspector Dube at Gokwe Police Station refused to serve the court papers, insisting that as a state institution the police could not serve another state institution, which is clearly incorrect and unlawful. The ZLHR lawyers were thus forced to serve the court papers themselves at Government Complex where they met with one of the concerned Respondents, Mr Mlotshwa. Mr Mlotswa initially refused to accept service insisting that the lawyers serve the Minister of State Security instead. He then phoned his superior in Gweru, a Mr. Sigauke, who also insisted on the papers being served on the Minister. Following insistence by the ZLHR lawyers that only the cited state agents had to be served, Mr Sigauke nevertheless insisted that the lawyers follow their own stated procedure and give their personal details, which was to include their wives names, if any. ZLHR lawyers complied under protest with the demand and filled in a "Personal Data Form", giving their names, home addresses, contact number, and fathers' names. After filling in the form Mr Mlotshwa then accepted a copy of the application and provisional order, but refused to accept a copy on behalf of his colleague, Mr Takadiyi, who was away at the time.

ZLHR is deeply concerned by the unlawful conduct of the two state agents in forcefully taking private property from the teachers without any legal authority to do so. Such conduct not only violated the teachers' right to property but also violated their constitutional right to receive information by denying them the use of their radios. These two fundamental human rights are clearly provided for and protected by the Constitution of Zimbabwe and other regional and international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a State Party, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is indeed regrettable that authorities continue to engage in unlawful behaviour in their attempts to prevent the public from seeking information from alternative sources.

ZLHR also strongly condemns the harassment and intimidation of lawyers by state agents while carrying out their legal mandate. To insist that lawyers carrying out their legal mandate give their personal details is clear harassment aimed at intimidating them from doing their work. ZLHR further condemns the refusal by the police at Gokwe Police Station to serve the court papers as ordered by the Magistrates Court, a clear disregard of a court order amounting to contempt of court.

ZLHR calls upon the Minister of State Security and state agents to stop the illegal and forceful seizure of people's radios, a clear violation of their right to property and right to receive and share information. ZLHR further calls upon the Minister of State Security and state agents, including the Zimbabwe Republic Police to respect court orders and desist from frustrating, harassing and intimidating lawyers carrying out their legal duties and seeking to execute court proceedings.

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