Chinamasa defends arrest of MDC supporters

JUSTICE and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa has defended the arrests of MDC supporters and lawyers saying there is nothing wrong in apprehending them if there is a prima facie case.

A prima facie case is reasonable suspicion of commission of an offence.

Giving oral evidence to parliament’s portfolio committee on Justice, Legal Affairs, Constitutional and Parliamentary affairs this week, Chinamasa denied that there is selective application of the law against MDC supporters and Law Society of Zimbabwe members.

“There is nothing wrong with the law. Let’s not challenge the law. If there are any cases where certain sections of the law are being abused please bring it to our attention. If anyone is arrested and it is a real crime — should that person not be arrested?” asked Chinamasa said. “The profession is highly polarised. Lawyers are undermining their own profession. When a person is in front of a judge or magistrate he is not MDC but an accused.”

Chinamasa said lawyers were liable to arrests like any other criminals.

This was in response to a question by MDC-T chief whip Innocent Gonese who asked him to explain claims by the Law Society of harassment and arrests of their lawyers during their course of duty, while a law officer from the Attorney-General’s Office convicted of contempt of court was never imprisoned.

Chairperson of the committee, Masvingo Central MDC-T MP Tongai Mathuthu, also wanted Chinamasa to explain the “bad blood” between the Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, the Director of Public Prosecutions in the AG’s Office Florence Ziyambi, and the Law Society.

Mathuthu said: “They seem to be on a warpath with legal practitioners — the AG and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Why are they hard on these lawyers? As a minister, can you ascertain the behaviour of the DPP (Ziyambi)? If you can at least put spies and see how sometimes she opposes bail without looking at facts.”

To which Chinamasa said if he had resources he would put spies in every part of the justice system.

Examples cited to support the claims of harassment and arrests were that of lawyer Mordecai Mahlangu who was apprehended last year after he had written to Tomana requesting that his client, arms dealer Peter Michael Hitschmann, should not testify in the treason trial of MDC-T treasurer Roy Bennett because he had no evidence against him.

Yet public prosecutor Andrew Kumire was not imprisoned after magistrate Chiwoniso Mutongi slapped him with five days imprisonment for contempt of court during the trial of prominent lawyer Alec Muchadehama.

Kumire simply walked out of the court despite being directed to remain in court in police custody. Mutongi resigned after that.

Also raised by the committee was the abuse of office by Chipinge magistrate Samuel Zuze who is accused by human rights lawyers of presiding over a case which he had interests in.

Zuze recently found four farmers guilty of “refusing to vacate their properties”. One of the farmers was the owner of Silverton farm which the magistrate allegedly occupied.

Chinamasa said he was not aware of Kumire and Zuze’s cases and asked the committee to compile its facts and bring them to him so that he could act on the matter.

He said he was “gravely worried” about the state of corruption in the legal profession as a whole.

MDC-T co-chairperson of parliament’s committee on the constitution, Douglas Mwonzora, asked Chinamasa if he was satisfied with Tomana’s competence while Zanu PF politburo member Biggie Matiza raised concern over the quality of skills coming out of the law faculties at universities.

Chinamasa responded: “I have confidence in the AG’s competence and skills. Eyebrows raised against him are more political. I give him 100%.

 

Wongai Zhangazha