Zimbabwean police showered blows on members of the Law Society of Zimbabwe who gathered at Harare's High Court Tuesday for a march to protest the police detention for three days of two colleagues defending opposition members, witnesses said.
The High Court is near President Robert Mugabe's Munhumutapa office, the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General. The lawyers had intended to petition Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, Attorney General Sobuza Gula-Ndebele and Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri at the conclusion of their march.
Notified in advance of the intended march, police declared it illegal.
Correspondent Thomas Chiripasi of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe said riot police, some armed with automatic rifles, shotguns and baton sticks, pounced on the protesters after counting to three and ordering the lawyers to disperse.
A police official said that the demonstration was illegal and that the lawyers had been notified beforehand. The Law Society organizers said they notified the police Monday but had received no response from the authorities.
The two attorneys for detained members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Alec Muchadehama and Andrew Makoni, were arrested Friday, charged with obstructing justice and freed Monday on Z$500,000 bail apiece.
Police over the weekend had defied two High Court rulings ordering their release. The attorneys representing Muchadehama and Makoni were denied access to their clients and threatened by police and members of the Central Intelligence Organization.
Muchadehama was detained at Matapi Police Station in Mbare, one of Harare's so-called high-density suburbs. The holding cells at this police station have been condemned by the Supreme Court as “degrading and human.”
Law Society President Beatrice Mtetwa, a well-known human rights defender, said she and others tried to take refuge in the Justice Ministry and the Office of the Attorney General. But police seized them, bundled them into a truck, drove out of the city center, beat them, then dumped them in Eastlea, a Harare suburb.
Mtetwa told reporter Blessing Zulu that police assaulted the lawyers even though they complied with an order to disperse.
Other lawyers assaulted include Irene Petras, acting director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Chris Mhike of Artherstone and Cook.