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Lawyers Increasingly Becoming Targets of Zimbabwe's Crackdown

The government of Zimbabwe has intensified its crackdown on lawyers through a wave of criminal prosecutions, beatings and arrests.

The latest target of the government's crackdown was criminal lawyer Jonathan Samkange, who police arrested Monday night on charges of violating a section of the Immigration Act. However, police dropped all charges against Samkange Tuesday evening, without explanation, and returned the Z$5 million he had been charged as bail.

Speaking from his home after his release, Samkange, the legal representative for British mercenary Simon Mann, told VOA that a few minutes after his hearing, the prosecutor told him that the Attorney General's office had ordered that his case be withdrawn. He said he was not given details of his sudden release.

Earlier, police spokesman Superintendent Andrew Phiri had told Studio 7 that they were investigating allegations that Samkange had flown an unidentified witness into Zimbabwe to testify in Mann's hearing, under false pretext that he was a personal friend.

The president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe Beatrice Mtetwa, said Samkange disputed the allegations, saying the unidentified witness, who had allegedly been tortured by authorities in Equatorial Guinea some time back, had come to assess the situation before agreeing to be a witness in Mann’s hearing.

Mtetwa told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the witness, a citizen of Equatorial Guinea living in an undisclosed European country, wanted assurance that he would not be abducted and sent to Equtorial Guinea, after testifying. The witness had however decided against testifying.

Elsewhere in Zimbabwe, on Tuesday, Mutare police briefly detained about 10 lawyers protesting the continued harassment and arrests of fellow legal practitioners by the police. The lawyers had been marching to the provincial governor's office to hand him a petition when they were detained.

Political analyst and human rights activists have warned that these intimidations may escalate as Harare draws closer to the the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2008.

Director Arnold Zimbabwe of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights told reporter Blessing Zulu that the arrests is an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...