Zimbabwe opposition appeals to Ramaphosa as human rights lawyers detained
Hours after the Zimbabwe presidential inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa for a second term after questionable elections, two human rights lawyers were arrested in part of what the opposition has called a crackdown.
On Monday evening human rights lawyers Doug Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi were arrested by police at a Harare hospital and charged with obstructing the course of justice.
They were trying to help Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) local councillor Womberaishe Nhende and CCC member Sonele Mukhuhlane — who had been abducted and tortured by armed thugs in Belvedere, Harare — on Saturday night and were being treated at the hospital.
Coltart and Muchineripi were arraigned in Harare on Tuesday.
Magistrate Dennis Mangosi freed the pair after asking them to deposit $100 each or its equivalence in the local currency and ordered them to report to the police once a week and not to interfere with state witnesses.
They were told to return to court on 3 October when the magistrate is expected to rule on their application for refusal of further remand, which their lawyers said they would submit in writing.
They will then return to court on 20 October when the court is expected to rule on the lawfulness of their arrest.
According to the prosecution, police had received information about a kidnapping following a report filed by Nhende and Mukhuhlane who had been kidnapped by suspected state security agents. The police said they went to Park Town Hospital where they were being treated.
“Upon arrival the detectives from law and order were approached by the accused who told them they didn’t want them to interview their clients. The police indicated that they were there seeking to interview the victims in connection with the case of suspected kidnapping that had been filed and was under investigation by Milton Park Police station. But they refused to allow the police to carry on with their work,” the state alleges.
Alec Muchadehama, the lawyer representing the two legal practitioners, said the decision to arrest Coltart and Muchineripi was unlawful and deprived Nhende and Mukhuhlane their right to legal representation.
“The decision to detain them in the first place is unlawful. These are senior officers of the court who are known to the police. We tried to engage the police to no avail,” said Muchadehama. “The arrest amounts to the criminalisation of the profession. They were in the course of representing their clients when they were arrested.”
Zanu-PF thugs are engaged in a brutal crackdown on opposition CCC members across the country in the wake of last week’s election, according to the CCC.
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CCC Senator David Coltart, who is Doug Colthart’s father and also a human rights lawyer, has called on President Cyril Ramaphosa — who was one of very few leaders to attend Mnangagwa’s inauguration on Monday — to condemn the assaults on CCC office bearers and supporters. ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula was also among the dignitaries who attended the ceremony on Monday.
Coltart senior said Doug had told the police “these guys are not in a condition to make a statement”, referring to Nhende and Mukhuhlane. The police became aggressive and arrested them. Coltart said he had spoken to his son at midnight and he was ok. He had not been tortured or assaulted. He and Muchineripi were still in detention on Tuesday morning.
“I have received further reports this morning of some 200 CCC members who are in hiding in remote areas because of a general outburst of violence perpetrated by Zanu-PF thugs in retribution for the CCC’s election victories.
“It’s mainly third-tier, local CCC leadership which is being targeted, not national or provincial leaders.
“They did this in 1985 to Zapu and to MDC in 2008, whenever they have lost an election they have lashed out against opposition structures and they can get pretty brutal.”
Although Mnangagwa was officially declared the winner of the presidential election, beating CCC leader Nelson Chamisa and Zanu-PF officially beat the CCC in the legislative elections, the CCC has claimed widespread abuses.
Coltart said the international community, especially regional leaders like Ramaphosa who backed Zanu-PF had a duty to protect innocent people and to speak out against abuses like those meted out to Nhende and Mukhuhlane.
“While this sort of thing is happening Cyril Ramaphosa comes here, hail-fellow-well-met, slapping Mnangagwa’s back for winning the election. If Ramaphosa doesn’t speak out against this he will be complicit as he has a responsibility as a regional leader to speak out,” Coltart said.
Daily Maverick asked Ramaphosa’s spokesperson for comment but he had not replied before publication. DM
This is a developing story and will be updated.