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Legal Monitor Issue 100
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

July 04, 2011

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Milestone

It is the voices that tell the story and nothing else.

Over the past 100 weeks, The Legal Monitor has told stories that show that despite race, religion, class or creed, Zimbabweans are battling with a common problem: human rights abuses.

From four elderly families fighting eviction by their employer to over a dozen human rights and political activists abducted and tortured by State security agents, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZHLR) has been there to assist and it has assisted many.

The Legal Monitor, too, has played its role in ensuring that these cases receive as wide a coverage as possible.

Take the case of four elderly families who were threatened with eviction in 2009 from the Snake Park houses they had called home for more than 52 years.

It appeared fait accompli for the families as the employer enlisted the services of the police to evict these hapless senior citizens.

The Legal Monitor broke the sad story and in no time the senior citizens had won a reprieve following the intervention of lawyers from ZLHR.

The senior citizens' case is an example of how ZLHR and The Legal Monitor have extended their arm to protect citizens' rights, particularly those in vulnerable situations.

Jestina Mukoko and other rights and political activists were abducted and held incommunicado by State security agents who tortured them in 2008 at the height of Zimbabwe's political crisis.

The activists, who included elderly persons and a two-year old boy, Nigel Mutemagawu were being accused of trying to topple President Robert Mugabe's previous government.

The Legal Monitor gave the matter extensive coverage, exposing the cruel methods used by State security agents to force suspects to confess to crimes.

"I was threatened with death. I was told I had only two choices. Either becoming a state witness or going extinct. Those were the exact words that they used. What they meant by that was that no one would be able to find my body," Mukoko said in an interview with The Legal Monitor in 2009 after her ordeal. The Supreme Court in 2009 freed her after ruling that by torturing the pioneering human rights campaigner State security agents had violated her constitutional rights.

Others whose stories were covered by The Legal Monitor were not so lucky. Village headman Rwisai Nyakauru died at the age of 82 in April after succumbing to severe beatings by State security agents that abducted him from his Nyanga homestead in February.

His crime: attending a meeting addressed by local MP and MDC spokesperson Hon. Douglas Mwonzora on 13 February this year.

Security agents detained and assaulted him at Taziwa Shopping Centre in Nyanga before handing him over to police at Nyamaropa Police Station, who charged him with contravening section 36 (1) (a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Nyakauru was assaulted all over his body by a group of people led by a war veteran called Wilfred Pokoto with sticks and a cattle prod during his detention, according to a narration he gave The Legal Monitor a month before he died. The Legal Monitor met Nyakauru in Harare where he was seeking medical treatment. Unfortunately, he succumbed and passed on. His testimonies to The Legal Monitor will remain an eternal record.

His assailants, who accused him of leading MDC supporters to destroy some shops belonging to ZANU PF supporters in the area, ordered him to lie on his stomach before brutally assaulting him. They walk free up to today.

Nyakauru's condition was aggravated when he was detained for three weeks at Mutare Remand Prison together with 23 other individuals including Hon. Mwonzora after prosecutor Tirivanhu Mutyasiri vetoed a bail order which had been granted.

His assailants still walk free. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

It was in the same volatile Nyanga area where ZLHR had earlier held community workshops to sensitise villagers about the Global Political Agreement and transitional justice mechanisms.

This was after the realisation that most villagers in this area were victims of violence as well as looting of property by ZANU PF militia.

Shortly after the workshops, 88 villagers were being charged with extortion for demanding the return of property looted from them by ZANU PF supporters in a classic case of how victims become the accused in Zimbabwe where selective application of the law appears the norm.

The case was dismissed after the villagers' lawyer Blessing Nyamaropa of ZLHR intervened.

Yet, all these cases do not highlight the indiscriminate use of cruelty like the case of a toddler who was detained at the deathly Chikurubi Maximum Prison as a terror suspect. The Legal Monitor widely reported the story, ensuring maximum coverage.

Nigel Mutemagawu was two years when the dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation officials seized him with his mother, Violet Mupfuranhewe and father, Collen Mutemagawu, both members of the MDC from their Banket home in October 2008 on terrorism and banditry allegations. They were kept in various torture locations before finding a home at Chikurubi.

Nigel could consider himself fortunate to have left Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison alive. Hundreds of prisoners continue to lose their lives after succumbing to hunger and disease in a prison known for atrocious conditions.

But life remains tough for him.

Prison life continues to haunt him, according to his parents.

"He is haunted and experiences nightmares," said Nigel's mother.

He dropped out of nursery school a few months after his release from Chikurubi as he struggled to cope with normal life.

Today, his tormentors walk free and continue perpetrating more human rights abuses. Similarly, The Legal Monitor will be around to report on such abuses without fear.

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