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Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, since 2001 the judiciary has been under intense pressure to conform to government policies, and the Government repeatedly refused to abide by judicial decisions. In a July 2002 speech, President Mugabe said, "if judges are not objective, don't blame us when we defy them."
The law provides for a unitary court system, consisting of headmen's courts, chiefs' courts, magistrates' courts, the High Court, and the Supreme Court. Civil and customary law cases may be heard at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.
Judges are appointed to serve until the age of 65 and may extend their terms until the age of 70 if they remain in good physical and mental health. The Constitution provides that they may be removed from the bench only for gross misconduct, and that they cannot be discharged or transferred for political reasons; however, since 2002 the Government has arrested and coerced judges into resigning. For example, in February, Justice Benjamin Paradza was arrested after making an unfavorable ruling against the Government (see Section 1.d.). In July, the prosecutor withdrew charges of obstructing justice against Judge Fergus Blackie. Before he was pressured into retiring in July 2002, Blackie sentenced Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to a 3-month jail sentence for contempt of court.
Magistrates, who are part of the civil service rather than the judiciary, hear the vast majority of cases and continued to come under intense political pressure after some of their decisions were interpreted as running counter to government interests.
During the year, the Ministry of Justice, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs and local police officers failed to take action against the militants who beat Walter Chikwanha, a presiding magistrate, in August 2002, despite the fact that Chikwanha had identified the perpetrators. Local attorneys have appealed to the Minister and to the Commissioner of Police, Augustine Chinhuri to take action. The Government did not take any action on the case by year's end.
Police arrested and subsequently released one of the assailants allegedly responsible the August 2002 stabbing of Zaka district resident magistrate, Godfrey Gwaka. Observers intimated that Gwaka was attacked for judgments in favor of MDC supporters during and after the March 2002 election period.
Other judicial officers such as prosecutors and private attorneys also faced similar pressure. On April 8, war veterans attacked Levison Chikafu, a senior public prosecutor at the Magistrate's court in Mutare, after they forced their way into his office and demanded to know why "he had granted bail to MDC supporters."
Several attorneys were denied access to their clients during the course of the year. On February 14, Perpetua Dube, Ndabezinhle Mazibuko, Thembelani Mkhwananzi, and Kucaca Phulu were denied access to their detained clients at the Central police station in Buluwayo. They complained that the police officers were obstructive and verbally and physically abusive. The attorneys were physically pushed out of the police station by approximately 20 riot policemen.
In March, Gugulethu Moyo, a legal representative for Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwe, was denied access to her clients and subsequently arrested and detained for an afternoon while attempting to represent her client.
Military courts dealt with court-martials disciplinary proceedings for military personnel. Police courts, which can sentence a police officer to confinement in a camp or demotion, handle disciplinary and misconduct cases. Defendants in these courts have the right to appeal to the Supreme Court.
On January 6 and August 27, a military court charged four army officers with participating in politics. The officers were represented by local attorneys during the proceedings. Two of these officers, Colonel Peter Shoko and Private Biggie Chikanya, were discharged from the army reportedly because they were judged politically unsuitable.
The Constitution provides for the right to a fair trial; however, this right was frequently not enforced due to political pressures. Every defendant has the right to a lawyer of his choosing; however, well over 90 percent of defendants in magistrates' courts did not have legal representation. In criminal cases, an indigent defendant may apply to have the Government provide an attorney, but this was rarely granted. However, in capital cases, the Government provided an attorney for all defendants unable to afford one. Litigants in civil cases can request legal assistance from the NGO Legal Resources Foundation. All litigants were represented in the High Court.
The right to appeal exists in all cases and is automatic in cases in which the death penalty is imposed. Trials were open to the public except in certain security cases. At the start of the treason trial of MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai, police officials denied members of the public entrance into the courtroom. The Presiding Judge, Justice Paddington Garwe, directed that the public be allowed access to the courtroom. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, the right to present witnesses, and the right to question witnesses against them, and defendants and their attorneys generally had access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases; however, some defendants were denied the right to wear civilian attire to court. MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai was initially brought to court in a prison uniform and in shackles and leg irons in what appeared to be an attempt to humiliate him. The defendants in the Nkala trial were denied the right to wear warm clothing to court. The courts eventually recognized the rights of the defendants and permitted them to wear civilian attire.
The Zimbabwe Women's Lawyers Association (ZWLA) claimed that most magistrates in the country were not aware of some of the contents of the Sexual Offenses Act (SOA) or that the law was in effect. ZWLA's research illustrated that many magistrates continued to make judgments based on old laws. During the year, ZWLA conducted training courses for local magistrates.
The Government and police routinely failed to abide by court decisions ordering the removal of war veterans and other squatters residing on commercial farms, and the Government routinely continued to delay payment of court costs or judgments awarded against it.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
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