Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 May 2019

‘Justice not politics’: Zimbabwe lawyers march against injustice

Police have arrested more than 1,100 people in a fortnight as the security forces press a brutal crackdown

Lawyers of the Law Society of Zimbabwe bar association take part in a "March for Justice" in Harare. AFP
Lawyers of the Law Society of Zimbabwe bar association take part in a "March for Justice" in Harare. AFP

Lawyers in their court robes hit the streets of Harare on Tuesday demanding the restoration of law and order after hundreds of people were put through summary trials following a brutal security crackdown.

Over the past fortnight, police have arrested more than 1,100 people as the security forces pressed a brutal crackdown against those involved in nationwide demonstrations over the more than doubling of fuel price.

With the country hamstrung by spiralling inflation and chronic shortages of basic goods, angry demonstrators took to the streets for several days before soldiers and police brutally put down the protests.

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At least 12 people died and hundreds more were wounded, many with gunshot wounds, according to NGOs and the opposition MDC party.

In unprecedented scenes, hundreds of civilians have been hauled before courts, many denied bail and immediately put on trial – in many cases before their lawyers had time to prepare.

Lawyers say there have been flagrant violations of the judicial process, with cases unlawfully fast-tracked and charges that have been abruptly changed in an almost choreographed fashion.

In a very public show of protest, more than 100 lawyers joined Tuesday’s demonstration, marching through the busy lunchtime streets of Zimbabwe’s capital waving placards and banners.

“Restore the rule of law and order immediately,” read one giant banner, while others said: “Stop (the) politicisation of the judiciary” and “Hurried justice is justice denied”.

Another protester walked along in silence, a piece of masking tape over her mouth bearing a single word: “Injustice”.

After a brief stop outside president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office where the weekly cabinet meeting was in session, they continued on to the Constitutional Court where anti-riot police were warily awaiting them with tear gas and batons.

There the demonstrators, led by prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, handed a petition to a Judicial Services Commission official.

“The purpose of the petition is basically to call for the restoration of the rule of law, respect for the constitution, respect for human rights and in particular respect for the conduct of trials,” said Ms Mtetwa.

Tonderai Bhatasara, another lawyer at the protest, said they had decided to march against “interference in the judicial system”.

He said most suspects “have been denied bail” and have been put on trial “without preparation”.

“That is a contravention of the constitutional right to prepare for your defence and we are saying: ‘No, that can’t be done’,” he told AFP.

Earlier on Tuesday, the MDC opposition said state repression had reached new levels under Mr Mnangagwa, accusing the government of mass human rights violations.

“We have become a police state where the military has more power than the constitution,” another lawyer, Simba Mubvuma, told AFP.

And one said the scale of Tuesday’s demonstration was testimony to the widespread concern felt within legal circles over the state’s handling of the crisis.

“It’s only because of the sheer scale of human rights abuses that we have seen, that has brought lawyers out today in the numbers that we have seen,” a lawyer called Doug Coltart told AFP.

“It really speaks to the validity of the grievances that lawyers have.”

Updated: January 29, 2019 11:34 PM

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