Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

Zimbabwe court says military takeover was legal

But legal experts say it is tantamount to legalising a coup

A court in Zimbabwe has ruled that the military takeover which led to the fall of Robert Mugabe was legal, raising concerns about the rule of law under the country's new administration. One legal expert said it was "tantamount to legalising a coup."

State-run media reported that the High Court had ruled that "actions by the Zimbabwe Defence Forces to stop the usurping of power by those close to former president Robert Mugabe are constitutional. "

In an apparent reference to Mr Mugabe's wife Grace and her supporters, the court ruled that the takeover was "to ensure non-elected individuals" did not exercise power.

The end of Mr Mugabe's 37-year rule was triggered by army chiefs putting military vehicles on the streets of Harare on November 14 and placing the 93-year-old leader under house arrest before he eventually resigned on Tuesday.Though this prompted much celebration, many Zimbabweans fear a new government under new president Emmerson Mnangagwa could also be an authoritarian regime.

"The court has endorsed the military's interpretation that it is permissible and lawful for it to intervene in the affairs of the executive," Zimbabwean legal expert Alex Magaisa wrote. "This is a dangerous precedent which places the government at risk from the power wielded by the military. In the extreme form it is tantamount to legalising a coup."

Human Rights Watch also questioned the independence of the courts.

On Saturday, Ignatius Chombo, the last finance minister under Mugabe's government, appeared in court in Harare — the first Mugabe loyalist to face charges of fraud.Mr Chombo, seen as an ally of Grace Mugabe, told judges that armed men in uniform had detained and questioned him for several days at an unknown location where he was criticised for his role in government. He was remanded in custody until Monday.

The army has warned that criminals have been exploiting the political turmoil by impersonating soldiers to extort money from the public.

Updated: November 25, 2017 10:00 PM