9 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Lawyer Charged in New Onslaught On Rights Defenders

Prominent lawyer Trust Maanda was on Thursday arrested and charged with defeating the course of justice, in what appears to be a new campaign against rights defenders.

Police allege that Maanda scuttled their investigations when he represented six ex-Mbada Diamond Mining firm workers who are suing the police for implicating them in a $3 million diamond theft case.

In a lawsuit filed at the High Court last month, the ex-workers said police forced them to confess to selling diamonds to Mutare businessman Mudassar Khan.

They also "disowned certain statements given to the police", sought the release of their vehicles impounded by the police as well as "compensation for inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of the police," according to the Zim Lawyers for Human Rights.

The rights group described Maanda's arrest as "a fresh assault on the legal profession".

Last week the National Prosecuting Authority indicated its intentions to revive a case in which human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was acquitted on a similar charge last year.

Andrew Makoni, who is part of Maanda's legal team, told this station that his client denies the charges which he views as "an affront to the independence and integrity of the legal profession".

"We also view these allegations against Maanda as an attempt by the police to deny the six litigants their constitutional right to representation by a legal practitioner of their choice," he said.

He said Maanda was summoned to Harare's Southerton Police Station, where he was slapped with the criminal charge of defeating or obstructing the course of justice.

Makoni said it was shocking that the police were arresting a lawyer for doing his job, "because offering legal representation is the very essence of our work."

"We are actually very frightened that police are doing this because as lawyers assisting clients is part of our everyday work and this means that we are at the mercy of the police."

"I believe this is the beginning of police harassment targeting human rights defenders particularly lawyers.

"Last year Beatrice Mtetwa was on trial on charges of again defeating the course of justice, the same allegations that another rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama was cleared of two years ago.

"There appears to be a pattern and we would like to plead with the police to give lawyers space to exercise their constitutional mandate," the lawyer added.


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