Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Court personnel flee as the state fails to prefer charges against opposition activists

Despite enduring grotesque torture while in custody, Morgan Tsvangirai and the other MDC activists arrested on Sunday had to endure a two hour stalemate at the Rotten Row court complex as the personnel fled their posts. In a scene symbolizing the departure of justce from Zimbabwe, court staffers were no where to be found when over 50 detainees were brought before the court. This despite a standing order from the high court reinforcing the victims' constitutional right to a speedy trial. Zimonline has an eyewitness recount of the ordeal;
Then the Zimbabwean justice system exposed itself once more to the world.

For more than two hours, we all waited for the remand hearing, hoping to hear what crime these political civic and political leaders had committed. For more than two hours, nothing happened.

No court official or magistrate turned up to kick off the hearing.

Then Advocate Eric Matinenga, representing Tsvangirai and his colleagues, stood and told the courtroom that all the court officials had fled their chambers. There was no one to hear the case.

This was clearly in contempt of court. On Monday night, High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu had ruled that all the arrested people should have access to legal and medical assistance, failure of which the State had to produce all the detainees at 8am the following morning.
Meanwhile, all of the 46 victims who needed medical attention badly were kept waiting with little regard to their pain or suffering.
Silence gripped the courtroom as the 46 arrested activists found their place among the chairs. It looked more of a hospital ward that a courtroom. In fact, the whole bruised lot deserved to be in hospital and not in a courtroom.

Those who were seriously injured included Tsvangirai, the National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku, the MDC’s deputy national treasurer, Elton Mangoma and deputy secretary for international affairs Grace Kwinje.

The usually “alive” Nelson Chamisa, the MDC’s spokesman, stood quietly in the corner, all the energy and verve apparently gone after two days of detention in the grimy cells.

Sekai Holland, usually talkative, remained mum even as fellow female activists mobbed her as she feebly acknowledged their greetings and words of encouragement.

Kwinje had almost half of her right ear severed off while her hands were a deep purple from the savage assaults at the hands of crack commandos in police attire during her detention at Braeside police station.

Twice, Tsvangirai failed to sit up. Twice, Mutambara, who appeared not to have been seriously assaulted, helped him, patting his shoulder for encouragement.

More than twice, the two exchanged whispers and ended up smiling and shaking hands.

If only it could be more than a courtroom gesture, the smiles from onlookers in the courtroom seemed to suggest.

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