3 April 2013

Zimbabwe: Zanu-PF Turns Heat On Judiciary

ZANU-PF has a history of exerting pressure on judges to quit, and the latest attacks on High Court judge, Justice Charles Hungwe, is a path the party has travelled before.

In 2001, the party's parliamentary caucus passed a vote of no confidence in Supreme Court judges, in a clear violation of the principle of separation of powers.

The vote of no confidence opened the way for the then sole ruling ZANU-PF government to ignore court orders and issue threats against members of the bench.

During that era, three individuals did most of the bidding for ZANU-PF: Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa, former information minister Jonathan Moyo as well as war veterans' leader, Joseph Chinotimba.

Chinamasa personally told the judges to quit, while Moyo rallied public opinion against them through the public media, both electronic and print. Chinotimba's role was restricted to intimidation.

On February 15, 2001, one of the affected judges, Justice Nicholas McNally told The Financial Gazette: "The minister (Chinamasa) made no specific threat against me. He did say something in general like the President does not want to see me hurt and that there would be unpleasant confrontation if I don't resign."

Although, Chinamasa and Chinotimba are out of the picture for now in terms of attacking the judges, Moyo is still clinging to his groove.

Moyo, a ZANU-PF politburo member, has been at the forefront, casting aspersions in the State media on justice Hungwe.

The attack against Hungwe, according to analysts, could be aimed at sending a clear message to all other judges in the country that may pass verdicts unpopular with President Robert Mugabe's party.

Justice Hungwe is being attacked for his failure to sentence a 55-year-old man he convicted in 2003 on robbery and murder charges after losing his court records as well as his decision to release human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.

This week, the state media continued its attacks on the judge, questioning one of his orders in a housing dispute, even though the law provides for any aggrieved party to appeal to the Supreme Court.

On Monday, Ricky Mukonza, a political commentator, said justice Hungwe's tribulations' must not come as a surprise because a judiciary that passes independent judgments was a threat to the power of the ruling elite in ZANU-PF especially as the country braces for fresh polls.

In the event of a controversial poll, Mukonza said ZANU-PF would want a compliant judiciary that would legitimise the electoral outcome.

The country is heading for polls more than four years after the formation of the inclusive government with much of the necessary reforms that underpinned the need for such a coalition not having been realised. This has raised fears of another sham poll.

"Justice Hungwe has been passing judgments' that are anti-ZANU e.g. the Mtetwa release. Jonathan Moyo and company are attacking independent judges like Hungwe with the bigger picture in mind, that is, in the event of a controversial election outcome they need a judiciary that will legitimise them," he said.

"This sustained attack on non-conforming judges should be looked at in the historical context of what happened around 2000 when ZANU-PF undertook the so-called judiciary reform where all judges who did not conform to the political system were persecuted and finally replaced. ZANU-PF has power in sight and will not tolerate any stumbling blocks on the way hence the sustained attacks on the likes of Hungwe would be a common feature."

Beginning in 2000, ZANU-PF embarked on an initiative to purge the bench of elements viewed as not towing its line.

First to be forced out was the then chief justice Anthony Gubbay who was replaced by the incumbent Godfrey Chidyausiku.

Some of the latter judge's peers have described him in private conversations with American diplomats as a 'rabid party man."

After forcing Gubbay to resign, the purge continued. Others to quit included justice McNally who opposed Ian Smith's Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1965 and was part of the counsel that lodged a constitutional application against that repressive government in 1968.

Justice McNally was later to reveal that he had told Chinamasa that he was not taking the minister's "kind offer" to resign, but would serve until his retirement which was due in less than 10 months.

Also affected was justice Ahmed Ibrahim, a former Attorney General who had previously set in cabinet and Parliament with ZANU-PF ministers, but fell out of favour ahead of the bloody and disputed 2002 presidential poll.

On Tuesday, another political analyst, Gideon Chitanga, said it was not only judges, but those holding dissenting voices that would be intimidated by ZANU-PF ahead of the forthcoming polls.

"Given the context of the Government of National Unity you would expect the hardliner elements in ZANU-PF to reform, however they are trying to intimidate and cow the few level headed judges ahead of elections," he said.

"We are likely to see more illegal detentions towards elections and intense abuse of human rights with judges put under intense pressure to persecute instead of prosecuting," Chitanga added.

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