On this Christmas Eve in Harare I walked through a dirty and gray Harare city centre to go to a press conference organized by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). They had information that they wanted to share about the recent enforced abductions of activists in Zimbabwe.
The press conference was held in the Quill Club in the Ambassador Hotel. The Quill Club is a popular watering hole for journalists in Zimbabwe.
There was a group of about 30 of us gathered around a pool table with the head of a large buffalo glaring down at us from a wall. A small TV, with the sound turned down, was screening some African soap. Standing around waiting for the conference to start I felt various emotions running through me: fear, outrage, pride. To name a few. Fear because we have to spend so much time watching our back, outrage because the Mugabe regime behaves so despicably and with such impunity and pride because Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has been working so hard to find the activists who have been abducted.
Irene Petras and Otto Saki from ZLHR were joined by kick arse lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and they told the gathering the length and breadth of the shocking collusion of the Zimbabwe Republic Police in keeping the whereabouts of the abducted activists unknown for so long.
Jestina Mukoko one of the forcibly abducted has been moved from police station to police for the last several days. Attempts by lawyers to get to talk with her and establish her well being have been denied.
Below is the most recent statement issued by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Give it a read and you’ll be left in no doubt that the rule of law does not exist in Zimbabwe.
And that Mugabe must go now.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
24 December 2008
Recent developments relating to individuals subjected to enforced disappearances
At around 1400 hours on Tuesday 23 December 2008, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) began to receive piecemeal information that various individuals, including civil society activists and members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) who had been abducted over the last 7 weeks, were believed to be held in various police stations around Harare.
Lawyers responded with a comprehensive but non-exhaustive search of a number of police stations, including Mabelreign, Marlborough, Avondale, Borrowdale, Mbare, Stodart, Matapi, Harare Central, Braeside, Rhodesville and Highlands police stations. By speaking to various police officials, examining Detention Books and requesting cell head counts, it was established that at least fourteen (14) individuals of the total number subjected to enforced disappearances, twelve (12) of whom appeared on the list of confirmed abductees, were being detained in custody at Mabelreign, Marlborough, Mbare, Stodart, Matapi, Braeside, Rhodesville and Highlands police stations. These individuals include Jestina Mukoko and her two (2) colleagues from the Zimbabwe Peace Project, who are being held at different police stations.
It is our strong belief that more individuals than those disclosed to lawyers are being held in those police stations, as well as others which have not yet been visited. It is also our belief that there may be more abducted persons than those currently confirmed and on the full list with which lawyers are currently working, as confirmed by the discovery of two (2) individuals in custody who had not been previously known to be abducted.
In contravention of constitutional protective provisions relating to detained persons, lawyers were, in all cases, denied access to their clients. They were not permitted to establish the wellbeing of the individuals, in all but one case they were not permitted to provide food to their clients, they were not permitted to provide medical assistance and treatment to the individuals, and were advised that a directive had been circulated to ensure that all individuals were not to have access to their lawyers, or to food and medication.
Most of these individuals, including those whose whereabouts are yet to be confirmed, are subjects of High Court orders which enjoin the police, including the Commissioner-General of Police and his subordinates, to do “all things necessary to determine [their] whereabouts” and to “dispatch a team of detectives to work closely and in conjunction with lawyers appointed by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, to search [for all people] at such places as may be within their jurisdiction in terms of the Police Act [Chapter 11:10] and the Constitution of Zimbabwe”.
It has transpired from investigations made by lawyers yesterday at various police stations that at least some of these individuals now confirmed to be in police custody have been held at police stations, have been booked in and out, moved from one police station to another, and made to carry out indications and other actions, for at least the past two to three days. There has also been at least one search of a private property (the home of Jestina Mukoko) on the night of Tuesday 23 December 2008, in the absence of her lawyers, and during which time some items were removed by the police. It is yet to be established whether police were acting in terms of a lawful and specific search warrant. The operation has been led by Chief Superintendent Magwenzi, together with other known individuals from the Law and Order section. Chief Superintendent Magwenzi himself confirmed to senior lawyers who spoke with him yesterday that he is the investigating officer in these cases, and has all the missing persons in his custody in direct contravention of the various court orders.
ZLHR is extremely concerned by the following:-
- The continuing trend, as experienced in previous cases, of separating out detained and accused persons in various police stations around the city to ensure that lawyers face challenges in accessing their clients and providing legal support and other protective services;
- The contempt by the police of at least six (6) High Court orders by failing or refusing to work with lawyers, as ordered by the judiciary, to ensure that the missing persons are urgently located and brought before a court of law or released forthwith;
- The unlawful search and seizure of property without search warrants;
- The now commonplace feature of denying lawyers access to their clients, as well as denying the detained persons food and medical attention, which puts them at physical and psychological risk despite clear constitutional protective provisions and in contravention of regional and international protective provisions which the state has willingly ratified and is expected to implement;
- The failure or refusal by the investigating officer and other police officials to disclose the charges against the individuals and barring lawyers from taking proper instructions before individuals are brought to court to be charged, especially where the charges are believed to be extremely serious and bear heavy penalties upon conviction;
- The continued breach of various provisions of the Global Political Agreement signed on 15 September 2008, in which all political parties undertook to protect the security of persons and to ensure that fundamental rights and freedoms would be respected.
These individuals, both those located and those still unaccounted for, have fundamental rights and freedoms which are being violated with complete impunity. They have been detained in unknown locations at which time they may or may not have been subjected to torture and other forms of inhuman and degrading treatment in order to unlawfully extract false confessions. It is our strong belief that any charges preferred against any of these individuals will be unlawful as a result of the treatment to which they have been subjected.
Today lawyers will be filing an urgent High Court application to have all detained persons produced before a court of law, seeking access to the individuals by their lawyers and medical practitioners, and to have them released as a result of the unlawful treatment to which they have been subjected. We hope that the courts will act with the urgency these cases deserve, and that law enforcement agents will comply with orders and act professionally in order to restore the rule of law immediately.
List of confirmed detentions
Jestina Mukoko Matapi
Concilia Chinhanzvana Highlands
Emmanuel Chinhanzvana Marlborough
Pieta Kaseke Marlborough
Ghandi Mudzingwa Highlands
Zacharia Nkomo Stodart
Mapfumo Garutsa Mbare
Regis Mujeyi Matapi
Pascal Gonzo Rhodesville
Broderick Takawira Braeside
Nigel Mutemagawu (2 year old minor) Mabelreign
Tawanda Bvumo Rhodesville
Violet Mupfuranhehwe Mabelreign
Mr Makwezadzimba Braeside
Whereabouts still unconfirmed
Andrison Shadreck Manyere