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  • Strikes and Protests 2007- Save Zimbabwe Campaign

  • Irreparable dent on Zimbabwe's human rights record
    March 16, 2007

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    Three ambulances, with their sirens blurring, lights flashing and speeding towards the Avenues Clinic in Harare, a 15-seater mini-bus was following - under the escort of a truck-load of armed riot police. One would have been excused for thinking the convoy was coming from the scene of a life threatening traffic accident.

    Far from it. They were all being driven from a court of law on 13 March 2007 - Court 6 at the Harare Magistrates Courts to be precise.

    Fifty people arrested for exercising their constitutional right to assembly had previously been rushed to court in a half-hearted attempt to "comply" with a High Court order which had been issued the previous night. The order had stated that the accused were to be released if they did not appear at the Magistrates Court by 12 midday on 13 March 2007.

    High Court judge Justice Chinembiriís orders, among them, that the accused should be granted access to their lawyers had simply been ignored. The right to legal representation is constitutionally guaranteed and any law abiding police officer does not necessarily need to be first presented with a court order in order to allow lawyers access to their clients.

    Harrison Nkomo, a Harare lawyer was severely assaulted by a uniformed police officer at a police station. His offence - he wanted to check on his clients who were detained at the police station. The police officer who assaulted him told him in no uncertain terms that the lawyerís calling should be confined to the Courts and not extend to police stations.

    One shudders as to whether his utterances are consistent with the training he received before being attested into the police force.

    Tsvangirai Mukwazhi, a freelance photojournalist and Tendai Musiyazviriyo, who is a freelance film producer, were arrested on 11 March 2007 together with the leader of the opposition MDC Morgan Tsvangirai, his secretary-general and legislator, Tendai Biti, spokesperson William Bango, secretary for information Nelson Chamisa and senior party official Grace Kwinje, Authur Mutambara leader of the other MDC faction, legislator Job Sikhala and Lovemore Madhuku chairman of the National Constitutional Assembly, among scores of other citizens.

    Mukwazhiís whereabouts had remained unknown until his appearance in court following his arrest on 11 March 2007 when police disrupted a national prayer meeting that had been scheduled for Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfield under the auspices of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. Gift Tandare, an MDC activist, was shot and killed in Highfield on the same day when police cordoned off Zimbabwe Grounds, venue of the planned national day of prayer.

    Looking at the journalists, political and human rights activists and the other accused persons crammed in the docket, one would have been easily excused for thinking they were being held in an emergency room awaiting to be attended to by a medical doctor. One of the accused could hardly stand on his own and for almost three hours lay prostrate on the filthy floors in Court 6.

    Pleas that if the man was not attended to urgently he would die in court fell on deaf ears. The accused persons probably owe their lives to the subsequent courageous decision by the acting director of public prosecutions Florence Ziyambi that the man and the rest of the accused in similar condition should be taken to hospital.

    It is only at that stage that staff from the EMRAS ambulance service was allowed to bring a stretcher into the packed court room for purposes of taking him to hospital. Some ninenteen hours earlier, Justice Bhunu had ordered that medical personnel be allowed to attend to the injured and bruised.

    What offence had the 50 committed to warrant such callous treatment? Is it an offence to be a journalist in Zimbabwe? The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporationís news departmentís motto is: We will be there when it happens. As to whether they were there in Highfield on the fateful day is only a matter of conjecture in view of the news blackout on the arrests and fate of the accused. Suffice to say Mukwazhi and Musiyazviriyo were there when it happened ready to capture the events as they unfolded only to be thrown into police cells. Mukwazhi was severely assaulted while in police cells.

    When an Assistant Commissioner Mabunda addressed lawyers representing the arrested persons on Tuesday 13 March 2007 at 2300 hours, he instructed his junior to ensure that the journalists who were present should be removed from the scene.

    The duty of a journalist is simply to record and report events as they happen.

    Mukwazhi and Musiyazviriyo were obviously simply responding to the call of duty when they drove to Highfield on the day in question.

    Zimbabwe is a multi-party democracy. It is therefore not an offence to belong to the opposition neither is it an offence for journalists to cover events as they unfold before their eyes and cameras.

    The events of 11 March 2007 pose serious questions as to whether Zimbabwe is a multi-party democracy as they have inflicted an irreparable dent on the countryís human rights record, tolerance to opposing views, freedom of expression and media freedom.

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