HARARE – Hundreds of lawyers marched on Tuesday to demand justice for people detained in jail and others facing fast-track trials after fuel protests this month led to mass arrests and a brutal security crackdown.
Zimbabwe has been on edge since the crackdown, during which police and soldiers conducted nigh-time raids on many homes and forcibly removed and beat alleged protesters.
Police say more than 850 people have been arrested since January 14, when a three-day stay-at-home strike called after President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised fuel prices led to street violence and looting. Those charged have been denied bail in a violation of their rights, lawyers say.
The Harare High Court on Tuesday ordered the release on bail of activist pastor Evan Mawarire, who was detained at Chikurubi maximum security prison in Harare on subversion charges after he tweeted his support for the strike.
Mawarire, who came to prominence as a critic of former leader Robert Mugabe, faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted. He will be released on Wednesday, his lawyer said.
On Tuesday, some of the lawyers marching through Harare carried placards emblazoned with the words: “Systemic beatings, detentions silence the rule of law” while another sign read “No to judicial capture, justice not politics; No to militarisation of magistracy”.
They walked from the Law Society of Zimbabwe offices to the Constitutional Court, where they presented a petition addressed to the Chief Justice Luke Malaba while riot police looked on.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human rights (ZLHR) says the arrests and detentions, most for public order offences, have exceeded the legal system’s capacity. Lawyers have been unable to extend representation to detainees including children, they say.
Close to 50 people have been acquitted on public violence charges while an equal number have been convicted and sentenced to as many as seven years, ZLHR said, adding those found guilty did not have lawyers.
Mnangagwa last week pledged to investigate the security crackdown. On Tuesday, police said they had arrested an officer who, together with a soldier and policeman, were filmed assaulting a man in handcuffs.
The opposition has cast doubt on Mnangagwa’s promises to deal with errant security forces, saying no one has yet been brought to account for the death of six people shot by the military after post-election violence last August.
A judge in Masvingo freed the MDC’s Mkoba MP Amos Chibaya on bail, but moments later he was arrested by police on a new charge of subversion and detained, ZLHR said.
Rights groups say over a dozen people were killed during this month’s unrest.
The country is also mired in economic crisis, and concerns are growing that frustration over that could lead to more unrest after public sector workers on Monday issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the government to meet their pay demands or face a strike.
The government has said the MDC is behind the demonstrations, something its leader Nelson Chamisa denied. – Reuters
Source: Zim Live