Regrettably, current developments on the Zimbabwean political scene involving government, certain political activists and their lawyers have raised voices of concern in Zimbabwe and around the world. A number of political activists from opposition parties and independent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono have been denied bail on several occasions and are in prison on remand awaiting trial.
In contrast, during recent months, we have witnessed arrests of several public officials including government ministers facing allegations of corruption involving millions of US dollars. Without exception they have been granted bail while awaiting trial. In yet another bizarre incident, we have witnessed an unusual drama in court that has resulted in a magistrate barring senior lead lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her clients including Hopewell Chin’ono. These incidents have quite rightly incurred the wrath, condemnation and ire of international jurists, civil society, other political activists, and the international community.
When justice is selectively applied and a pattern emerges whereby people of one political persuasion are treated favourably in comparison to others, justice is not being done. The rule of law is an essential pillar of democracy and if it is not respected, democracy suffers. When ZUNDE called upon the Mnangagwa government to establish good governance and rule of law, we did so knowing that this was critical for the future of a free, democratic, inclusive and prosperous Zimbabwe which we thought was unfolding.
ZUNDE is dismayed and shocked by the way that the Government of Zimbabwe is ignoring, violating, disregarding and disrespecting the rule of law as is evidenced by current events.
One of ZUNDE’s founding principles, in line with international ideals, is that all people are entitled to be and must be treated equally before the law regardless of their origin, creed, race, political affiliation, or other factors. This means that, from the time they are arrested to the time they complete their sentences, they must be dealt with according to the law in equal measure and treated the same. The rules of natural justice that relate to people’s entrenched rights to be represented by a lawyer of their own choice must be seen to be applied equally to every litigant. Government cannot and must not determine who should have access to a lawyer and who should not. It is also grossly improper for government, directly or indirectly, to cause the incarceration of citizens without trial. The entire country looks like some kind of a political prison. This, we condemn!
ZUNDE stands side by side with all those people and organisations that condemn the Zimbabwe government’s treatment of the dissenting voices who have been brutalised and denied their legal rights. We are concerned that those opposed to the current status quo, members of opposition political groups and journalist Chin’ono, have been hunted, arrested and incarcerated without bail for exercising their constitutional rights and freedom of expression in circumstances that can only be described as repressive and a violation of their individual rights to protection from the law. Lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa representing some of them, most notably journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, has been publicly humiliated and denied the right to practice her profession. This must not and cannot happen in a democratic environment – ever!
ZUNDE strongly calls for respect for the right of all citizens to be treated equally before the law.
The Government of Zimbabwe must take responsibility for its failure to enforce the rule of law and for the present political, economic and social crises in Zimbabwe. Pointing the finger at other nations is a tired and worn out tactic devoid of any credibility. Instead of dwelling on phantom enemies of the state, the government must look at itself in the mirror and do some serious introspection. An opportunity is just about to be lost as the international community is certainly watching, listening and wondering whether Zimbabwe is steadily sliding back into the Mugabe era.
Every citizen has a right to be protected by the law — this is not negotiable.
This statement has been endorsed by Justice Benjamian Paradza
exiled Judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe and President of ZUNDE.