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This article participates on the following special index pages:
Index of articles on the mistreatment of the legal profession in Zimbabwe
under the cosh
Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR)
Joseph Sithole (AR No. 114, 30-May-07)
May 30, 2007
the special index page on the mistreatment of the legal profession
Lawyers seem to be the
latest victims of the current wave of state-sponsored intimidation
and violence, in which opposition leaders and activists have been
arrested, beaten or tortured in police detention on spurious charges.
The most high profile
lawyer to fall victim to the campaign was the president of the Law
Society of Zimbabwe, Beatrice Mtetwa, on May 8.
She was amongst a group
of lawyers who had gathered outside the High Court in the capital
Harare to protest the detention by police earlier of their colleagues,
Alec Muchadehama and Andrew Makoni, who were seeking the release
of their clients, opposition activists.
Mtetwa and four colleagues
were bundled into a police van and later brutally assaulted in broad
Zimbabwe is scheduled
to hold combined presidential and parliamentary elections in March
next year. In the past, these ballots have been marked by unbridled
violence, which, according to human rights organisations, in 2000
claimed the lives of about 200 opposition activists.
A Harare lawyer said
the arrest of lawyers was aimed at intimidating them and also instilling
fear in the opposition.
"Lawyers will be
afraid to represent opposition activists. If that happens, it would
be a major victory for ZANU PF. [Also], if lawyers can be beaten
in broad daylight, how many people can dare venture out when they
know there would be no one to represent them?
"It is a campaign
of terror which has assumed a new dimension where even lawyers are
seen as political activists."
An activist of the Movement
for Democratic Change, MDC, in the poor suburb of Mabvuku suggested
that the pressure being heaped on lawyers also discouraged people
from seeking their help, "In the end, nobody would like to
be associated with so-called regime change agents.
"Lawyers are not
a power base for any party. It is their intermediary role which
the government is trying to destroy in its fight with the MDC."
But he disputed the claim
that lawyers were being targeted as a group, saying it was only
the brave few taking cases involving the opposition who were being
The attorney general,
Sobusa Gula Ndebele, said he didn't have information about
the beating of lawyers, and there has been no official comment President
Robert Mugabe or any other government officials.
contrasts with his cavalier response to the beating in police custody
of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his supporters following an
aborted rally on March 11.
Mugabe afterwards told
an emergency meeting of the Southern African Development Community
in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania - which had been called to discuss the
assaults - that his government would bash those who break the law,
a euphemism for those who oppose him.
Most of the criticisms
of the lawyers have come from government spin-doctors who accuse
the Law Society of Zimbabwe of representing the interests of whites.
Chairman of the Media
and Information Commission Tafataona Mahoso and other government
officials, particularly Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba,
writing under pseudonyms in state newspapers, have accused the society
of fronting for white legal firms.
Analysts say this gives
the police the mistaken impression that they are dealing with sellouts,
with officers believing that they are working in defence of the
national interest when going after lawyers.
The president of the
Law Societies of Southern Africa, Sternford Moyo, said at least
ten lawyers had been arrested in the latest crackdown. He was himself
briefly detained the week before last on unclear charges.
The attacks on lawyers
have provoked worldwide condemnation, which has gone unheeded by
government. The Pan-African parliament based in South Africa recently
proposed sending a fact-finding mission to assess the human rights
situation in the country. The proposal was met with anger by the
Zimbabwe government, which said it had no mandate to do so.
This in part explains
recent efforts by Zimbabwe justice minister Patrick Chinamasa to
divert the attention of the African Commission on Human Peoples'
Rights away from human rights violations by the government towards
a distant colonial past.
Chinamasa was in Ghana
last week for a session of the commission discussing human rights.
He said the body should demand that Britain honour its obligation
under the 1979 Lancaster House constitutional agreement, which brought
about independence, to compensate white farmers for any land acquired
by the state.
Joseph Sithole is the
pseudonym of an IWPR reporter in Zimbabwe.
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