Zimbabwe justice system in intensive care

On the day when Zimbabwe’s neighbour, South Africa, celebrated Human Rights Day, with its President leading the call for protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, Zimbabweans instead face a renewed onslaught by the state which strikes at the very heart of their hopes and dreams for a democracy which respects their views and allows legitimate dissent and criticism to be expressed without fear of unnecessary and vindictive retribution.

The conviction of Munyaradzi Gwisai, Antonater Choto, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Eddson Chakuma, Hopewell Gumbo and Welcome Zimuto on charges of conspiracy to incite public violence on 19 March 2012 by magistrate Kudakwashe Jarabini is highly regrettable. The sentencing of the six to a fine, 24 months’ suspended imprisonment, and 420 hours of community service each, is harsh to say the very least.

Having carefully scrutinised the two judgments, and the reasoning behind them, ZLHR is of the considered opinion that the conclusions reached were supported neither by evidence led during the trial, nor the laws of the land. Rather, they will be, and have been, perceived by all reasonable people to be a conduit for the delivery of a political message through the courts.

This political message is that Zimbabweans are not expected to freely and peacefully associate, even in the confines of their private and protected spaces; they are not expected to freely express their views, legitimately critique public officers, or express their dissent. Zimbabweans will not be allowed to question the authority of those who hold national and political office even where such officers may have failed to deliver on their mandate and obligations.

Intelligence operatives will be allowed to infiltrate such spaces with impunity, and the courts of our land will accept the fruits of their unlawful activities without providing credible backing for reaching such conclusions. Police will be allowed to torture detainees in attempts to build a case, and the prosecution and the courts will not come to the rescue of such victims by refusing to tolerate such heinous and now well-entrenched practices.

It is on this basis that Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) welcomes the news that both the convictions and the sentences imposed on the six are to be appealed.

It is a sad day indeed when we witness the destruction of public confidence in the ability of the courts to act impartially and in terms of the law to the extent which has occurred in the aftermath of this case.

The office of the Attorney General can also not be allowed to escape criticism for the manner in which its officers have conducted themselves in this matter.

International and regional human rights norms and standards oblige the prosecution to accord an accused person all the rights associated with a fair trial. A case in which detainees are tortured during pre-trial detention, spend 27 days in custody before being released on bail, and are then subjected to a protracted trial which impacts on their freedoms is an inexcusable abuse of the justice system for purposes of punishment whilst such accused persons are entitled to the presumption of innocence and the protection of their fair trial rights.

It is a sad day indeed when a prosecutorial authority is unable to see accused persons as human beings entitled to the protection of the law and their rights. The actions of the Attorney General, through prosecutors and law officers such as Edmore Nyazamba and Michael Reza must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. They must now search their consciences and live with the destruction they have wrought on the public perception of the office they represent.

ZLHR reiterates its call for comprehensive reform of the justice delivery system to bring an end to the perception that institutions such as the prosecutorial service and the courts are now just vehicles for the protection of entrenched political interests and a barrier to the legitimate questioning of public authority. The courts, in particular, will need to work extremely hard to recover from the blow they have been dealt as a result of this case in order to show that justice is blind, and that every person who appears before them will receive protection of the law and due process, without fear or favour, and regardless of their political and social persuasions.

Post published in: Politics

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