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11 May 2007
I write as I please - biweekly column by Wilf Mbanga

Last Friday two lawyers rushed to the High Court to file an urgent application opposing the Home Affairs minister’s certificate, issued to stop a magistrate’s court granting bail to their clients.

They argued eloquently about how the minister had abused his powers, had not applied his mind properly and in this case, as in many others, and was using the law to deprive innocent Zimbabweans of their basic human rights.

As they walked out of the court the lawyers, Alec Muchadehama and his partner Andrew Makoni, were themselves arrested and accused of obstructing the course of justice. Their offices were searched without their permission and in their absence.

Muchadehama was immediately taken to the notorious Matapi Police Station, site of vicious beatings of opposition activists by Mugabe’s thugs in police uniform.

On Saturday lawyers representing them were denied access and one of them was threatened with arrest and beating. They rushed to the High Court to seek an order for the release of their colleagues. This was granted by Judge Tadius Karwi, but it is now four days later and the two lawyers are still languishing in prison with no access to legal representation. The High Court order, like many others before it, has been totally ignored by the police.

This is the pattern in Zimbabwe today. People are arrested where there is no shred of evidence. They are locked up for days, savagely beaten, denied access to lawyers and medical attention. This has been the fate of hundreds of nameless street-level activists during the past two months.

The arrests of the lawyers signifies the machinery of violence going up a gear. The two lawyers have been targeted simply because they are members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who have been working tirelessly under extremely difficult conditions, and provocation, to secure a semblance of justice for the victims of Mugabe’s brutal reign.

All their records are in the hands of the police – thus totally destroying any semblance of lawyer-client confidentiality, something that is a foundation of any judicial system.

The lawyers’ arrest has been internationally condemned – notably by the Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association, whose president Sternford Moyo said: “We condemn the arrest of lawyers especially where the arrest is motivated by something done by them in the execution of their duties. “Domestic and international law requires that lawyers be free to discharge their functions without hindrance and that is necessary for any effective administration of justice.”

Let it be noted: It was the SADC heads of state who three weeks ago refused to condemn Mugabe publicly for his human rights abuses. There is now blood on their hands.

"We got full backing, not even one (leader) criticised our actions," Mugabe boasted to the party faithful back in Harare. “SADC is not a court. We are brothers, we co-operate with each other and we have love for one another," he was quoted as saying in the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper.

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Wilf Mbanga, one of the founders of the independent Zimbabwean daily newspaper "The Daily News", is currently living in the UK. He writes about the current situation in Zimbabwe.


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