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Lawyers slam Bennett’s imprisonment

Gift Phiri/Godfrey Marawanyika

THE International Bar Council has condemned the imprisonment of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP Roy Bennett as harsh and degrading.

“Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>In a joint statement with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, the international lawyers’ organisation said the one-year prison term with hard labour for such an offence was “unprecedented” and “fundamentally unsafe”.

The sentence, recommended by a parliamentary committee and confirmed by a vote, gave the opposition legislator no right of appeal or other recourse to a court of law.

Bennett pushed to the ground Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa during a parliamentary debate in May and was kicked from behind by Anti-Corruption minister Didymus Mutasa.

“To any non-partisan observer, the process by which the sentence was imposed violates the right of any person to be tried by an impartial tribunal,” read the statement by Peter Carter, chairman of the Bar Human Rights Committee, and Stephen Irwin, chairman of the Bar Council. “So too does denial of right of appeal to any court.

“If parliament proposes to act as a court, it must comply with the minimum standards of justice and fairness that apply to criminal process (including contempt) in international law and in every municipal system that honours the rule of law, namely the right to an impartial tribunal and the right to have an order reviewed.”

The Bar Council noted that after the imposition of the sentence, Bennett’s place of imprisonment was not revealed to his legal representatives.

“When they did locate him, they found that Bennett, a family man, had been stripped and clothed in a soiled prison garment that exposed his genitalia and buttocks,” the statement said.

“The Bar Council and the Committee deplore such flagrant and degrading mistreatment of a prisoner and urges the Zimbabwean parliament and prison authorities to condemn and bring to an immediate end any mistreatment.”

The two organisations said that violence could play no part in a democratic process. “However, Bennett’s sentence is disproportionate to his offence and has not been tested by normal judicial process. The manner of his treatment in prison gives rise to the gravest concern. The Bar Council and the Committee urges the Zimbabwean parliament to condemn any mistreatment of its member Bennett and to afford him immediate recourse to an impartial court of law.”

Meanwhile, the Law Society of Zimbabwe said this week the decision to imprison Bennett “was made on strictly party lines and therefore any appearance of fairness or impartiality on the part of the sentencing body is totally absent”.

The Law Society said “it was common cause that Mr Bennett was provoked as a result of racist remarks uttered by Minister (Patrick) Chinamasa and that the nature of the assault perpetrated by Mr Bennett was such that a court of law would have almost inevitably imposed a minimal type of sentence…”

It pointed out that Minister Didymus Mutasa admitted that he too assaulted Bennett, “and yet no action was taken against him by parliament”.

The Law Society said it was unaware of any parliament anywhere in the world jailing an MP for a similar assault. It expressed “shock and disappointment” at the punishment which it said deprived Bennett of his constitutional right to freedom.

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