Lawyers in Zimbabwe marched on the constitutional court on Tuesday to protest the alleged denial of justice for hundreds of people arrested in a violent crackdown on protests that shut down the country.
Police said more than 1,000 people have been arrested over the protests against a sharp rise in fuel prices that began two weeks ago. Lawyers say many are languishing in jail after being denied bail while others have been forced into unfair hearings across the country.
A prominent pastor and activist charged with subversion and accused of inciting the protests, Evan Mawarire, was granted bail after more than a week in detention. He could face 20 years in prison. His lawyer rejects the allegations against him.
Japhet Moyo, secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, also is charged with subversion. He remained in detention.
Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa described the judiciary’s actions as “well-coordinated” to punish suspects.
Dozens of gown-wearing lawyers marched in the capital, Harare, as riot police watched. “Liberate the courts from the army,” one of the lawyers’ signs read. “No to command justice,” read another.
Some lawyers gagged their mouths with pieces of paper inscribed with the word “injustice.”
The lawyers petitioned Zimbabwe’s chief justice, Luke Malaba, saying that “it has become commonplace to hear of denial of basic fundamental rights and freedoms of those arrested and suspected of having participated in the protests.”
The lawyers asserted that abuses by the military and police include abductions of suspects or close relatives, the assault and torture of suspects to induce confessions, the denial of treatment for tortured suspects.
The American Bar Association said it was “deeply concerned” about the unrest in Zimbabwe. “Credible reports indicate that many of those arrested are being tried in groups of 50 or more and are being denied the right to bail and to effectively consult their lawyers,” ABA president Bob Carlson said in a statement.
“In some instances, lawyers reportedly have not been informed of the charges against their clients in advance, and it is unclear whether individualized proof of guilt is being required in these deeply flawed proceedings.”
Reports of alleged abuses by security forces continued, with the military heavily deployed in poor and working-class suburbs. Doctors and others have reported at least 12 deaths in the crackdown and more than 300 people wounded, scores with gunshot wounds.
Zimbabwean authorities have asserted that it is not military and police carrying out any violence but “bogus elements” in stolen uniforms who aim to tarnish the image of the country’s security forces.
Main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa asserted to reporters that the arrests are meant to “cripple” his party, which has unsuccessfully sought dialogue with President Emmerson Mnangagwa after narrowly losing a disputed election last year.
Chamisa said his party had reported the issue to the southern African regional bloc, with no response.
“I don’t know how many bodies are supposed to be killed, I don’t know how much blood is supposed to flow in Harare,” he told reporters.
Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba rejected Chamisa’s allegation, pointing out that some ruling party activists had been arrested and convicted for burning a bus amid the unrest.
After reports of women being raped by security forces in the crackdown, Charamba said police were investigating one case of alleged sexual abuse. She urged victims of rape to report it to police.
Many victims of sexual violence are reluctant to approach the police or government hospitals for fear of reprisals.