OVER 150 placard-waving lawyers yesterday staged a protest march in Harare before handing in a petition to Chief Justice Luke Malaba, demanding the restoration of the rule of law and respect for human rights.
The demonstration was triggered by what they alleged to be a miscarriage of justice on hundreds of citizens, who were recently arrested in various parts of the country on allegations of violence, but were denied bail, while others had their cases fast-tracked without following due process.
The lawyers called on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to immediately stop the use of disproportionate force by the security forces during the arrest of unarmed civilians, including use of live ammunition, beatings and nocturnal raids on private homes.
The petition was handed over to Judicial Service Commission (JSC) secretary Walter Chikwanha by the lawyers’ representative, Beatrice Mtetwa, at the Constitutional Court building.
“The continual deployment of the army to attend to issues within the distinct and exclusive province of the specially commissioned police service, the use of disproportionate force by the security forces to effect arrest of unarmed civilians including use of live ammunition, beatings and nocturnal raids on private dwellings,” the petition reads.
“Dragnet arrest and prolonged mass detention including the detention of minor children in police custody, abduction of suspects or their close relatives by suspected State security agents, members of the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) and members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP).”
The lawyers further said they were also concerned by the continued assault and torture of abducted persons or their close relatives by the military and State security agents while attempting to extract information or confessions from persons who are then surrendered into the custody of the police for prosecution.
“The wanton arrest, abuse, rape and sexual assault of defenceless women and children by members of the security forces, detention of suspects at undesignated locations in contravention of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, denial of entry into police stations to members of the legal profession and/or denial of access to legal representation of some clients at some police stations upon arrest particularly at inter-alia, Mabvuku, Epworth, Braeside and Makoni police stations,” they said.
The lawyers also said pre-trial applications filed by suspected protesters had either been disregarded or dismissed by magistrates countrywide, regardless of the merits of the cases, in a manner that now appears choreographed.
The lawyers further said in addition, they were faced with inordinately expedited trials dismally falling below the elementary achievable standards of fair trial set out in section 69 of the Constitution, adding the “fast-track trial” practice predictably denied them sufficient time to consult with their clients
They further said it was the duty of the State to ensure the counsels were granted sufficient time to enable them to provide effective legal assistance to their clients.
Soon after handing in the petition, Mtetwa told journalists that the petition had come about after realising that the rule of law was now under threat in Zimbabwe.
“There has been a feeling that even in the presence of lawyers trials are being misconducted. We feel that we might be sanitising a process that is not going the way it is supposed to be,” she said.
“The purpose of the petition is basically to call for the restoration of the rule of law, respect for the Constitution, respect for human rights and in particular conducting of trials which must follow the due process where all people are accorded their rights.”