The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum is shocked by the arrest and detention of prominent human rights legal practitioners Alec Muchadehama and Andrew Makoni on Friday 4 May 2007, while carrying out their professional duty to provide legal representation to their clients in terms of international and domestic law. A Court Order was handed down by Justice Karwi on Saturday 5 May 2007 that declared the arrest and detention unlawful. The Zimbabwe Republic Police ignored the Order, as in now common practice and incarcerated them until 7 May 2007 when they appeared before the Magistrates’ Court charged with obstructing the course of justice. Despite an Order by a superior court (High Court) to the contrary the magistrate held that the lawyers had a case to answer, effectively overturning the High Court Order.
It is also understood that the Defence Counsel in the case was detained overnight on 5 May 2007 at Harare Central Police Station and reportedly assaulted by a senior police officer after he was threatened and told to get Justice Karwi’s Order reversed.
This latest example of the defiance of Court Orders by the police shows that the state will continue, with impurity, to close democratic space and crush dissent in Zimbabwe and will use law enforcement and security agents increasingly to achieve this.
In contravention of the provision of article 18 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, lawyers were denied access to Messrs Muchadehama and Makoni, were not permitted to be present when they were being interrogated by the police and an attempt was made to assault one of the lawyers, who was seeking access to them, by a senior police officer in the presence of other police officers.
On Tuesday 8 May 2007, members of the Law Society of Zimbabwe assembled outside the High Court in Harare to march to the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs in protest against the arrests and in solidarity with their affected colleagues.
The assembled lawyers were confronted by riot police, and some Army details and warned by a senior police officer that the gathering was illegal and that they should disperse, which they did. In the process, the riot police pushed and assaulted those disbursing and arrested the President of the Law Society and four lawyers. They were taken to a vlei near Eastlea, savagely assaulted and left at the site.
In expressing its grave concern at the latest onslaught against democracy in Zimbabwe, the Human Rights NGO Forum calls on international, regional and local bodies to urge the Zimbabwe government to abide by its international obligations and its own Constitution, particularly article 18, which provides that every person is entitled to protection of the law and sets out principles to be adhered to in order to achieve this end.