Zimbabwe: Bad Day for Justice and NGOs

analysis

Two decisions in different parts of Zimbabwe have illustrated yet again that - almost three years after the inauguration of the Inclusive Government - it is the oppressive, anti-democratic forces behind President Mugabe who still hold the upper hand.

The first decision was taken in Harare where a magistrate rejected an application by the 'Egypt 6' to have the ludicrous case against them thrown out after the prosecution completed its 'evidence'. Based solely on law, justice and the nonsense that the prosecution produced, any magistrate in an open and democratic state would have found for the defendants and dismissed the case immediately. But this is Zimbabwe and the magistrate decided that there was enough of a case for the six to answer - despite the lack of any credible evidence - and so the legal fiasco will continue.

It is already a year since the six were arrested. They were part of a group of 45 activists, who were watching video footage of the Egyptian uprisings and discussing the meaning of the events for Africans living under similarly undemocratic conditions across the continent. Some of them were beaten and tortured. All of them were held for weeks - the women at the infamous Chikurubi Prison, and the men at Harare Central - and initially charged with treason.

Eventually, a magistrate dismissed the treason charges against all but the six 'leaders'. After numerous postponements and the laughable excuse for a case put forward by the prosecution, the six had hoped that their ordeal would end today. But the case will now drag on - another reminder of how seriously the judicial system has been compromised.

Meanwhile, another innocent group that regularly attracts the public condemnation of the ZANU-PF-powers-that-be found itself in the firing line once again - as 29 NGOs were banned for spurious reasons from operating in Masvingo Province by the Governor, whose position is one of the many unresolved issues between the three parties in the Inclusive Government.

Among the suspended organisations are the rights groups Zimbabwe Peace Project and Zimbabwe Community Development Programme, as well as Care International, a leading provider of food aid in some of Masvingo's drought-prone districts. And while this decision only applies to Masvingo, it will clearly affect their ability to work elsewhere and ensure that they are even more reticent about speaking out on critical issues. And guarantee that there are less independent eyes to report on what ZANU-PF does in rural Masvingo in future.

This decision also shows that ZANU-PF hardliners are already starting to flex their muscles well before the next elections. It is time for SADC and the international community to publicly condemn the activities of the hardline elements behind Mugabe - or there will be similiar decisions (and worse) in other ZANU-PF run provinces in the coming months.

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