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Lawyers slam use of media to attack judiciary

Itai Dzamara

ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has condemned the use of state media as instruments to attack members of the judiciary who make rulings that are unfavourable to government.

The internationally recognised human rights watchdog yesterday reacted sharply to the re-arrest of Zanu PF businessman James Makamba by police after he was granted bail by Harare magistrate Judith Tsamba on Wednesday.

Police arrested Makamba soon after Tsamba had ordered him released on bail since he was first detained on February 9. Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena was quoted in yesterday’s issue of the state-controlled Herald as suggesting that Makamba was re-arrested because he had committed a First Schedule offence.

“Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights is concerned at growing incidences of police re-arresting suspects after the courts have ordered their release,” said the ZLHR statement.

“The latest in those cases is that involving Mr James Makamba whose release was ordered by magistrate Ms Tsamba on 17 March following a precedent of the High Court in a matter with similar facts. Despite the court ordering his release, Mr Makamba has remained in detention,” ZLHR said.

“The other prominent case where the police disregarded a court order is that involving Mr Phillip Chiyangwa where the executive defied Justice Bhunu’s order for the immediate release of Mr Chiyangwa,” it said.

“Such blatant defiance and disregard of court orders undermines the administration of justice and goes to the root of the independence of the judiciary. In particular such conduct seriously erodes the public’s confidence in the courts and has grave consequences on the rule of law.”

The Herald yesterday claimed that the ruling by Tsamba had sparked outrage among lawyers and quoted “highly placed sources” saying “the ruling was totally unacceptable”.

ZLHR described the use of the state media to criticise the judiciary as contemptuous and unwarranted.

“ZLHR is also gravely concerned at the continued use of the Herald and other state-controlled public media as instruments to attack members of the judiciary who in the course of their duties as judicial officers make rulings that may not be favourable to certain quarters within the state,” said the statement.

The Herald quoted a government source as saying: “The courts do not have the capacity and will never have that capacity to say each one of the police officers in the country must first obtain a warrant before they arrest anyone.”

“ZLHR maintains its position that such comments are contemptuous, unwarranted and calculated to bring the administration of justice into disrepute,” the rights watchdog said. “It is also part of a wider, deliberate, systematic and sustained general attack on the judiciary to manipulate it, reduce its independence and weaken national institutions of protection that are vital for the restoration of law and democracy.”

ZLHR urged government to observe international instruments to which it is a signatory that “clearly spell out its obligations and responsibilities towards ensuring that the judiciary remains free from political and other interference”.

These include the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

The ZLHR also cited section 70B of the Zimbabwe Constitution which states: “In the exercise of judicial authority a member of the judiciary shall not be subject to the direction and control of any person or authority.”

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