BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
The American Bar Association has expressed concern at the ongoing unrest in Zimbabwe, which human rights groups say has resulted in the death of at least 12 people, allegedly by the army during protests against fuel price hikes.
ABA said while it condemned acts of violence that occurred during recent public protests against the government, the grouping was troubled by allegations of arbitrary arrests and the fast-tracking of trials without due process.
The association successfully applied to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to observe the criminal proceedings of the arrested suspected protesters in Harare where they witnessed the acquittal of public violence suspects Farai Muringisi and four others who included Wiseman Savadye, Alexander Munera, Michael Phiri and Salma Mudimu.
The five were accused of throwing stones and missiles at travelling motorists. They were also accused of pulling down a security fence at Epworth Police Station.
The Association also condemned the trial of those arrested in groups of 50 or more, with some of them being denied the right to bail and to consult their lawyers.
They also attended the trial of 60 other Epworth residents suspected of violent behaviour who were all refused bail, with minors released into the custody of their guardians.
“In some instances lawyers reportedly have not been informed of the charges against their clients in advance and it is unclear whether individualised proof of guilt is being required in these deeply flawed proceedings, in which several alleged protesters have already been convicted,” ABA president Bob Carlson said in a statement from Washington.
Carlson urged government to immediately ensure that all the accused are afforded full due process of law, as guaranteed in Zimbabwe’s Constitution and relevant regional and international instruments.
“Without fair trials, trust in government and the rule of law collapse,” he warned.
With more than 400 000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organisations in the world