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Human rights defenders - Peace Watch
June 02, 2009

The Law - Instrument of Peace or Instrument of Repression?

There has been a disturbing trend in Zimbabwe of the law being used to harass and arrest political opponents, human rights activists and human rights defenders. In the past six years, a conservative estimate of over 5 500 human rights defenders have been picked up and detained, but not one conviction has been secured by the State in these cases [Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights]. And this is still continuing. Nevertheless, despite harassment and persecution, human rights defenders courageously continue their vital work - vital, because peace, stability and economic prosperity can only prevail in a society that fully respects the rule of law and human rights.

International Awards for Human Rights Defender Beatrice Mtetwa

Beatrice Mtetwa, an intrepid Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, and a leading member of the team fighting for the rights of the political abductees since October last year, recently won two prestigious international awards for her defence of human rights:

  • the Sydney and Felicia Kentridge Award, which is given annually by the General Council of the Bar of South Africa to a lawyer who has made an outstanding contribution to law in southern Africa [to be presented in July]
  • the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize for 2009 [to be presented in October in Paris]. This prestigious prize is awarded to a lawyer, regardless of nationality or Bar, who throughout his or her career has illustrated, by his or her activity or suffering, the defence of human rights, the promotion of defence rights, the supremacy of law and the struggle against racism and intolerance in any form. It is awarded jointly by the Human Rights Institutes established by the Bars of Bordeaux, Brussels and Paris, the European Bar Human Rights Institute and the Institute for the Defence of Human Rights of the Italian Bar. Beatrice is the fourteenth recipient of the award. She joins a distinguished company - the first recipient of the prize was Nelson Mandela in 1985.

Court throws out charge against Human Rights Lawyer Muchadehama

Alec Muchadehama, another leading member of the legal team defending the political abductees, was arrested on allegations of attempting to defeat or obstruct the administration of justice. What Mr Muchadehama did was to get three of the abductees [Chris Dhlamini, Gandhi Mudzingwa and Andrisson Manyere] released from custody on the basis that the State had failed to lodge its appeal against Justice Hungwe's order granting them bail within the 7-day period allowed by the law. He spent the night of Thursday 14th May in a cell at Braeside police station before being released on bail the next day, when he was remanded until 28th May. On 28th May Mr Muchadehama's lawyers challenged the charge as baseless and applied for him to be removed from remand, i.e., for the charge to be dismissed. That application was granted by the magistrate yesterday; she ruled that on the facts placed before the court by the State there was no reasonable suspicion that Mr Muchadehama had committed any crime. Unless the State resuscitates the prosecution, he no longer faces trial.

Caught up in the same case, was judge's clerk Constance Gambara, who was arrested for abuse of public office arising out of her processing of paperwork for the release of Mr Muchadehama's clients. She spent several days in Chikurubi Prison [with her nine-month old child], after the State initially indicated its intention to appeal against her bail. She was eventually released on 14th May when the State withdrew its appeal, and was remanded to 12th June.

Lawyers' protest march in Harare

On 19th May a large number of lawyers joined in a lunch-hour march in Harare to protest against the arrest a few days earlier of Alec Muchadehama. Riot police were present but did not act to stop the march. The march started at the High Court and ended outside the Government office complex housing the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs. In the absence of both the Minister and the Deputy Minister a petition was left at the Minister's office. [Electronic version of petition available on request.]

Human Rights Cases to be Heard in Supreme Court

Thursday 4th June - Jenni Williams [WOZA] case

Women of Zimbabwe Arise [WOZA] have spent six years protesting the deteriorating health and education services in the country. Their ethos is non-violence and their protests include a yearly Valentine's day march during which they hand out red roses as symbols of peace and love. Many have been beaten, picked up from their homes and threatened. They have been constantly arrested and detained, sometimes for weeks in insufferable conditions in police or prison cells. There have been thousands of arrests but only eight cases have gone on to trial - and all eight ended in withdrawal of charges or acquittal. On 4th June the Supreme Court will hear the case in which WOZA leader Jenni Williams challenges the constitutionality of the Criminal Law Code provision under which so many WOZA members have been arrested. The provision criminalises participation in gatherings with "intent to disturb the peace, order or security of the public". The court will be asked to invalidate the provision for its inconsistency with the constitutional sections protecting freedom of expression, assembly and association and movement.

Thursday 25th June - Jestina Mukoko and other abductees seek redress

The Supreme Court will hear the case brought by Jestina Mukoko and other political abductees in which they complain that their constitutional rights were infringed by their abduction, lengthy unlawful detention, treatment during detention [including torture] and the State's failure to take appropriate action against those responsible while at the same time vigorously pursuing criminal charges against the abductees. The court will be asked to stop the prosecution of the abductees until the case against their kidnappers has been fully investigated and prosecutions mounted against those responsible. As a constitutional case, this will be heard by five judges. The complainants' legal team will be led by Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett SC of the South African bar. Deputy Attorney-General Prince Machaya will head the State's team.

High Court trial dates for political abductees

[For details of the charges laid by the State see Peace Watch of 11th May.]

  • 8th June: First "recruiters" trial - State vs Concillia Chinanzvavana, Fidelis Chiramba, Violet Mupfuranhewe and Collen Mutemagau
  • 29th June: "Bombers" trial - State vs Kisimusi Dhlamini, Gandhi Mudzingwa, Chinoto Zulu, Andrison Manyere, Zacharia Nkomo, Regis Mujeyi and Mapfumo Garutsa
  • 20th July: Second "recruiters" trial - State vs Emmanuel Chinanzvavana, Pieta Kaseke, Jestina Mukoko, Audrey Zimbudzana and Brodrick Takawira

Recent "political" trials ending in acquittals

  • Minister Eric Matinenga - acquitted "without a stain on his character" at the end of his trial on a charge of inciting public violence
  • Deputy Minister Tichaona Mudzingwa - acquitted at the end of the State case in his trial for attempting to cause disaffection among Army personnel after the March 2008 elections
  • Pearson Mungofa MP - also acquitted of attempting to cause disaffection among Army personnel after the March elections
  • Buhera public violence trial - 11 MDC-T members acquitted at the end of the State case of charges of public violence allegedly committed during the funeral of Mrs Susan Tsvangirai.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights have pointed to the Matinenga and Buhera acquittals as proving that the police continue to effect arbitrary arrests without first carrying out investigations and establishing a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Other criminal proceedings against MDC-T politicians have also ended in the State case collapsing, after causing serious disruption to the lives of the individuals accused - such as Tendai Biti's weeks in detention on treason allegations last year [case never brought to trial] and before that the treason trial of the present Prime Minister [ending in his acquittal].

WOZA and human rights lawyer tried and acquitted

On 10th February WOZA members were active in central Harare, handing out flowers to passers-by and spreading their message of love. Police intervened and started apprehending them. Two Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights lawyers, Rose Hanzi and Tawanda Zhuwarara, who happened to be in the vicinity on their way back to their office, were also arrested. The trial of the two lawyers and eight WOZA members began on 19th May in the magistrates' court in Harare. All pleaded not guilty to charges of taking part in an unlawful demonstration on 10th February. When the trial resumed on 28th May all of them were acquitted at the close of the State case. The magistrate concluded that the police had shown ignorance of the law and had wrongfully arrested the accused persons, and that the State evidence had utterly failed to establish the offence charged. The magistrate also said he did not understand why the police had arrested women who were spreading a message of love.

Journalists covering case of abductees now awaiting trial

Two senior journalists with the Zimbabwe Independent, Editor Vincent Kahiya and News Editor Constantine Chimakure, will stand trial in the magistrates court on 16th June on charges of undermining public confidence in law enforcement agents. They published a story naming certain CIO and police officers as being implicated in the abductions of the political abductees. That story was based on the contents of the official trial documents served by the State on the political abductees [see Peace Watch of 6th May].

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