Zimbabwe's warped justice system

€¦ an instrument for political suppression
For more than one year, serious treason charges hung over the head of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) Treasurer General and Deputy Agriculture Minister designate, Roy Bennett. Police arrested Bennett in February 2009 on the eve of his swearing in and charged him with treason, banditry and sabotage.  

If convicted, the MDC-T official faced a death sentence. However, on the 10th of May 2010, Bennett was acquitted on grounds of lack of substantial evidence from the prosecution led by Attorney General, Johannes Tomana.

Bennett's case is just one example of how the government of Zimbabwe, which ZANU-PF controls despite the consummation of a power-sharing agreement, the Inter-party Political Agreement (IPA). ZANU-PF retains excessive political power, using the partisan courts and judicial officials aligned to it as instruments to persecute any real or perceived opponents. President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF have a long history of abusing the justice system as an instrument of suppression. For instance, soon after Zimbabwe attained independence in 1980, Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) leader, Joshua Nkomo was slapped with politically motivated treason charges for allegedly leading dissidents in Matebeleland and Midlands provinces.

Spurious treason charges were laid against several leading political figures including the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) President, Morgan Tsvangirai, Secretary General Tendai Biti, the late Ransom Gasela and Professor Welshman Ncube. Civil society leaders such as Jestina Mukoko, Director of Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) were also subjected to trumped up treason charges and persecution by the judiciary. Student leader, Mehluli Dube was at one point arrested and detained under similar charges. Ordinary Zimbabweans who dared criticize Mugabe's old age and misrule were also subjected to persecution, and often accused of seeking to unseat a 'democratically elected President'.

It is unacceptable that the Attorney General's office is abusing taxpayers' money to subject perceived ZANU-PF opponents to harassment, intimidation and torture. One would recall that in 2008 scores of activists were abducted, slapped with bogus treason charges, hauled to court and denied their basic freedoms for more than three months before being released and the charges dropped. The same is true of the 2007 trumped up charges against senior MDC officials, Dennis Murira and Members of Parliament, Paul Madzore among others.

The continued abuse of the notorious Section 121 of the Criminal Law (Reform and Codification) Act by the Attorney General's office in cases involving MDC supporters and members of civil society organizations is an indication of how the courts have ceased to be impartial and professional but have turned into platforms through which ZANU-PF settles political scores. The same is true of the notorious Public Order and Security Act (POSA) which is used to curtail fundamental freedoms. Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) statistics show that the state failed to prosecute 792 human rights defenders arrested under POSA between 2003 and 2009. Police have thus incarcerated innocent people for long periods of time without legal justification.  

ZANU PF, through the use of draconian laws such as POSA and compromised courts, has sought to suppress political opponents and to quell dissent without due regard to the fundamental rights of individuals.   In a democratic country, the rights of all individuals should be respected and upheld regardless of their political affiliation or position in society.  

It is important for the inclusive government to ensure concrete and meaningful institutional reforms. The country should move towards democratic consolidation where the rule of law is upheld, draconian laws are repealed and institutions such as the security organs of the state, which have been used in the past as political tools are sanitized. Only then can the country transit to democracy.


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