Comment: Nobody Safe In Zimbabwe

RIGHTS activist Jestina Mukoko, who together with dozens of opposition members is facing treason charges, has filed an affidavit in court detailing the inhuman treatment meted out to her by state security agents.

Mukoko in her affidavit said she was abducted from her Norton home on December 3 by six men and one woman and taken to an unknown destination where she was tortured and interrogated by state security agents for allegedly recruiting youths to undergo military training in Botswana.

She was also interrogated about the alleged involvement of the Zimbabwe Peace Project in recruiting youths and funding their military training.

She said she was blindfolded, repeatedly assaulted and tortured underneath her feet during her 19 days of abduction. She was handed over to the police on December 22 and charges of banditry were brought against her. Despite her apparent trauma, she has been denied medical treatment and courts have not been helpful in upholding her right to freedom in the absence of credible evidence against her.

We note with disgust that there appears to be a trend in which torture and abductions have become routine practices by our security forces in the execution of their duty.

It is even more disturbing to note that complaints which have been lodged in the courts have not, with the notable exception of Justice Omerjee, received due attention from the judiciary which has a mandate to safeguard the Constitution and civil liberties.

Our government has over the years seen it fit to act outside the Constitution in cases involving security matters. But the state’s obligation to protect liberties should be sacrosanct, as averred by human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.

“If anybody has committed an offence the law is very clear — the Constitution must not be suspended because there are state security issues.

“No law allows anybody to grab a suspect in their night clothes and take them to an undisclosed location and spend weeks without your family, lawyers or courts knowing where you are,” said Mtetwa.

The condoning of such state excesses has created a culture of impunity where the state is no longer embarrassed to bring to court suspects with swollen faces and others limping due to beatings inflicted on the soles of their feet, a well-known torture known as the falanga.

The abduction and alleged torture of Mukoko and other activists is an emblematic and sad reminder of the dark side of the Zanu PF regime which now appears impervious to criticism stemming from rights abuses.

It places Zimbabwe in a club of rogue states which routinely resort to torture and other acts of brutality as measures of coercive control over a disenchanted population. 

The Zimbabwe government has not ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture even though parliament voted to ratify it.

In any event, whether Zimbabwe is a signatory of the UN Convention against Torture or not, torture remains a crime under international law and must be frowned upon by the judiciary which has a duty to not only prompt an investigation into suspected cases but to speak out against such excesses.

These alleged actions contravene Section 15 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which outlaws torture. Section 15 (1) states: “No person shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading punishment or other such treatment.”

Zimbabwe under international law has an obligation to criminalise and to prosecute all acts of torture, including any act that constitutes complicity or participation in torture. International law states failure to prevent torture carried out by subordinates may entail criminal responsibility.

The government has an obligation to continue to act within the confines of the law notwithstanding the gravity of the case it is prosecuting. And the judiciary has an obligation to uphold the basic rights of Zimbabweans to freedom instead of swallowing the far-fetched claims of a state that has repeatedly seen its treason cases collapse.

The incarceration of MDC officials in Bulawayo seven years ago on charges connected to the death of Cain Nkala is one of the more shocking cases of judicial inaction in the face of fabricated charges.

Justice Sandra Mungwira, to her lasting credit, eventually ordered their acquittal when it became obvious they should not have been arrested in the first place.

The absence of real political will to implement this very basic tenet of the law — the assumption of innocence — has brought us to this sad state of affairs where suspects disappear for weeks only to be brought to court bearing marks of abuse at the hand of the state.

And the production by the state of a certificate to say national security interests are at stake should be taken with a pinch of salt. The state is not a disinterested party.

The latest case has exploded any pretensions by this regime that it respects the rule of law. This is a loud declaration that Zimbabwe is well and truly a rogue state in which nobody is safe and the absence of a robust judiciary is taking its toll on civil rights.

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