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Published On: Tue, Aug 30th, 2016

Robert Mugabe goes for broke; attacks on judicial escalates

HARARE – President Robert Mugabe and his government have launched an assault on the country’s judiciary in a bid to contain the rising protests that have awakened the international community to the Zimbabwe crisis which have tipped the southern African nation to the brink of implosion.

This comes as the spirit of resistance sweeping across the country is nearing tipping point as angry Zimbabweans have planned to roll out two more massive demonstrations this week alone.

Mugabe is facing the biggest challenge to his 36 year-rule which angry Zimbabweans blame for the worsening political and economic situation.

Yesterday the lapdog State media, which is controlled by Mugabe’s government carried articles — including an editorial — in which it implored government to lean on the judiciary to stop granting court orders allowing protestors to stage demonstrations.

“For instance, it boggles the mind how the judiciary can allow perpetrators of fresh violence the “right” to go back onto the streets even as those whose cars were burnt and whose shops were looted are still counting their losses,” said the Sunday Mail in its editorial yesterday.

“Yes, the Constitution guarantees rights of expression, association and to protest. The same Constitution values peace and development above all else. It also places limits on rights, especially where they infringe on the inalienable rights of the majority of the rest of the citizenry.

“It is a concept that Justice Bharat Patel captured well in a 2010 ruling turning down an attempt by a group of white farmers to register a Sadc Tribunal ruling in Zimbabwe that would have effectively reversed the Fast-Track Land Reform Programme.

“Given these countervailing expectations, public policy as informed by basic utilitarian precept would dictate that the greater public good must prevail,” added the Sunday Mail.

On Friday, police bludgeoned hundreds of protestors who had gathered in Harare under the auspices of the National Electoral Reform Agenda (Nera), a grouping of 13 opposition political parties that had planned to demonstrate against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) secretariat and outstanding electoral reforms.

The protest march, which the opposition wanted to use to press for much-needed electoral reforms ahead of Zimbabwe’s eagerly-anticipated 2018 national elections, prompted nervous authorities to place the entire capital city under a virtual lock-down.

Even after the High Court had ruled that the protest march could go ahead, riot police — backed by armoured trucks and water cannons — indiscriminately fired volleys of teargas at all and sundry, battering and chasing groups of determined opposition supporters.

Yesterday’s threats against the judiciary triggered anger from lawyers and opposition political parties who see this as an attempt to muzzle the courts, like what happened in 2000.

“The Constitution of Zimbabwe is clear on separation of powers. It has clear provisions on the independence of the judiciary and the judiciary is there to protect people’s right to protest and uphold human rights,” said Tendai Biti, who is a respected lawyer and leader of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP),

“Chinamasa in early 2000 fired the bench and Justice Anthony Gubbay (chief justice then). However, I don’t think they will go the legal route now. I think they will just unleash violence on citizens, they did that already on Friday when they unleashed the army.”

In 2000, Mugabe targeted the judiciary after he launched bloody and violent agrarian reforms which dispossessed white commercial farmers of land after losing a constitutional referendum.

Most judges, mainly whites, were hounded from the bench.

The MDC yesterday condemned the threats against the judiciary, accusing Mugabe and Zanu PF for trying to “soil” the reputation of the local judges.

“The Zanu PF regime is a rogue regime. This is why they are disrespecting and disobeying court orders with impunity.

“We are dealing with a rabid, violent, corrupt and intolerant regime that is obsessed with the politics of power retention at whatever cost,” said MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu.

“If the regime continues to flagrantly disobey and disregard court orders, all our judges should proceed to resign en masse. This will trigger a constitutional crisis of unprecedented proportions. At that stage, Sadc, the AU (Africa Union) and even the UN (United Nations) shall be compelled to intervene in order to resolve the long-standing political crisis in Zimbabwe.”

Mugabe has been accused by his critics of using police to batter hapless protesters who are fed up with his continued stay in office.

His critics say Friday’s savage attacks on a lawful gathering, coming hard on the heels of most recent brutal crackdowns against unemployed graduates and youths, show that Mugabe’s end is nigh but would try to destabilise the judiciary to contain protests.

“It is not surprising that the Mugabe government is targeting the judiciary now because it is not the first time that the regime purged the judiciary

of independent judges,” said Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“We are likely to see yet another round of the government ignoring court orders it deems unfavourable and attacking the judges behind those court orders until the judiciary is left with only those judges that are malleable and who dance to the tune of the regime.

“We should not expect the government to condemn acts of police brutality because very senior government officials and … Mugabe himself have in the past condoned and even encouraged police brutality.

“We call on Sadc to urgently revive the Zimbabwe crisis mediation programme, but it is unlikely that Sadc leaders will even speak out against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe when they meet on Tuesday and Wednesday,” added Mavhinga.

The unfolding political crisis in Zimbabwe has caught the attention of international community, including the UN which said it was closely monitoring the situation.

Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson of UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon said the UN was concerned by police brutality and deteriorating political situation in the country.

“We’re obviously watching the situation in Zimbabwe very closely. We urge the authorities, the government of Zimbabwe, to ensure that people’s right to peaceful protest and assembly be fully respected,” Dujarric said.

The UN concern comes as the Sadc heads of states — including Mugabe — meet in Swaziland tomorrow and Wednesday in a crucial summit which rights groups want Zimbabwe put on the agenda.

Last week, the internationally-respected Group of Elders, who include a former American president and head of the United Nations, issued an unusually frank call to Sadc to intervene in the worsening Zimbabwean political crisis. – Daily News