A former Zimbabwean police chief has been jailed 18 years for murdering a suspected illegal diamond miner last year during a vicious crackdown at the controversial Marange diamond fields.
Mutare High Court judge Justice Hlekani Mwayera on Thursday sentenced 51-year-old Joseph Chani, an ex-police superintendent, after he found him guilty of fatally assaulting Tsorosai Kusena while in custody.
The once-powerful officer was convicted of murder with constructive intent and assault emanating from a brutal beating of the deceased’s relatives, Wonesai, Pikirayi Kusena and John Gwite, after a two-week trial.
The assault charge earned him three years which Justice Mwayera said will run concurrently with the murder sentence.
Scores of people from Mutare – among them businessmen, socialites and ordinary residents - packed the courtroom to witness the sentencing.
Handing down judgment, Justice Mwayera described Chani as “a man of many words, who is quite dramatic, and contradictory,” before sending him away.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Manicaland coordinator Blessing Nyamaropa expressed his satisfaction. "No one is above or below the law; if you torture suspects whether you are in a senior position the law will always catch up with you."
A relative of the deceased and the complainants Tichafara Kusena said the sentence has to some extent restored faith in Zimbabwe's politically-compromised judiciary.
"We are happy with the manner the case was handled through-out from investigations up to the judgment and sentence. It has shown that we can still rely on our police and the courts," said Kusena.
The news also attracted applause from activists and critics who accuse the government of using the military and the police to arrest and abuse people suspected of being illegal diamond panners in Marange, without due course.
For deeper analysis, VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo turned to Resources Exploitation Watch executive Tafadzwa Musarara and Kimberley Process Harare point person Shamiso Mtisi.
Mtisi said the High Court judgment could help deter security forces from gross human rights violations not only in Marange but other areas in the country while Musarara urged more action to ensure a fair application of the law.