Comment

The shame of state paranoia


NO matter how much the Zanu PF government tries to deny its egregious human rights record, it is nevertheless working feverishly to demonstrate that it can attack civic liberties with impunity.

The events of the past two

weeks following the arrest of opposition MP Giles Mutsekwa and other members of the MDC on charges of conspiring to assassinate President Robert Mugabe, amply demonstrate the extent to which government is prepared to subvert fundamental human liberties using methods, including arbitrary arrest, which have no place in a democracy.
 
The state case collapsed on Wednesday with charges being dropped against the accused.
 
What has emerged from the state’s latest debacle is that the world has seen all too clearly that Zimbabwe is not a democracy and security agents, which include the Central Intelligence Organisation and the police, do not respect basic human rights or legal due process.
 
It is also crystal clear that the government is prepared to cause alarm and despondency to fulfil a political agenda set by the ruling party. This is not the first time the country has been made to endure immense anxiety and tension because of state-authoured dramas designed to portray President Mugabe and his government as victims of Western conspirators.
 
But such was the clumsy amateurism of this latest episode that the state case quickly collapsed. On Tuesday evening High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, ruled the continued detention of the accused and the confiscation of their property unlawful. The judgement should be hailed as a bold illustration of judicial activism which has been lacking of late among some of his colleagues on the bench. He said the illegal detention and the refusal by police to allow lawyers to access the accused “deserved the highest possible censure”.
 
“It cannot be justified in a democratic society,” said the judge. “One cannot simply condone such a blatant refusal of access by the police. This is the type of conduct that brings the administration of justice into disrepute.”
 
Court documents state that the accused were abused and tortured while in custody. Even after they had been remanded in custody by a court, the police and the CIO still continued to detain them when they should have been transferred to remand prison.
 
The documents detail the ZRP’s disrespect for lawyers and the legal process and a culture of obduracy designed to subvert individual rights.
 
Such was the conduct of the police and the CIO that even prosecutors, who are state lawyers and should be on the same side as law enforcers, were victims of harassment and intimidation.

State counsel who had travelled from Harare to bolster the state case had to leave Mutare unceremoniously after threats from the police and the CIO, it is reported. The area prosecutor had to abandon his home and find alternative accommodation after the police and the CIO accused him of siding with the defence.

Justice Hungwe rightly describes this behaviour by the police and the CIO as “a shocking development”. The pattern of partisan behaviour by state agents is evident from the Gukurahundi era in the early 1980s, to the arraignment of Zanu Ndonga leader Ndabaningi Sithole on treason charges, through to the Cain Nkala murder case and the Ari Ben-Menashe saga.

This unprofessional behaviour has not been missed by alert judges. Justice Sandra Mungwira captured this well in her ruling in the Nkala case.

“The (police) witnesses conducted themselves in a shameless fashion and displayed utter contempt for the due administration of justice to the extent that they were prepared to indulge in what can only be described as works of fiction …”
 
Repeated claims by police commissioner Augustine Chihuri that Zimbabwe has a professional police force as demonstrated by assignment to United Nations duty abroad cannot stand the test of sincerity in the face of the shocking conduct of the police in dealing with the Mutare case. With equal measure claims by State Security minister Didymus Mutasa that Zimbabwe has a competent intelligence apparatus which managed to save the nation from a terrorist plot is simply laughable. There was no plot other than that concocted in the minds of ministers and partisan security officials.
 
Whenever charges of human rights abuse are raised against Zimbabwe, our rulers have been quick to accuse the media of painting a negative image of the country. We have even been accused by our colleagues in the state media of lying. But it is clear this week who has been wielding the brush to tar the image of the country.
 
Can Chihuri or Mutasa dispute Justice Hungwe’s summation that the Mutare incident was “the type of conduct that brings the administration of justice into disrepute”? The Commissioner of Police and Minister for State Security should be held accountable for this disgraceful episode.