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African Lawyers Say Attempts to Silence Zimbabwe Judge Misplaced

Three top African lawyers’ groups say they are concerned that on-going attempts to intimidate Zimbabwe High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe, who recently ordered the release of a prominent Zimbabwean lawyer, point to an escalating rule of law crisis in the country.

The Pan African Lawyers Union, Southern African Development Community Lawyers Association and Southern African Litigation Centre, said the state is now conducting a campaign of vilification of the judge through the state media and aligned outlets.

Nicole Fritz of the Litigation Centre said the three organizations believe that the attacks are intended to intimidate Justice Hungwe and other judges against making rulings against the executive arm of the government.

Fritz said the independence and integrity of the judiciary is threatened when individual judges are subjected to what she says are unwarranted attacks by state-aligned entities.
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The state-controlled media started targeting Justice Hungwe days after he ordered searches at the offices of three Zanu-PF ministers suspected of being involved in shady deals.

He also ordered the release of prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who is accused of attempting to defeat the course of justice when she tried recently to bail out five staffers of the prime minister’s office.

The state-aligned media entities have dusted a decades old case in which the judge is said to have failed to sentence a 55-year-old man convicted in 2003 of robbery and murder charges after he allegedly lost his court records.

The judge was described in a 2009 leaked United States cable as “perhaps Zimbabwe’s most independent judge”.

For perspective on the independence of the judiciary in Zimbabwe, VOA reporter Tatenda Gumbo turned to Psychology Maziwisa, lawyer and Zanu-PF deputy communications director, and Jacob Mafume, also a lawyer and constitutional affairs principal director in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office.

Mafume said the action against Justice Hungwe shows the lack of respect for the justice system in Zimbabwe.
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