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Police must enforce, not defy rule of law

Lawyers protest in Zimbabwe

LAST week’s barbaric physical assault and arrest of human rights lawyer Kudzayi Kadzere by police officers while on his line of duty was a clear demonstration that authorities are determined to turn this country into a pariah State — where the rule of law is considered alien.

To demonstrate that Zimbabwe’s police don’t care about the rule of law — a long-running concern internationally — Kadzere was attacked and arrested while carrying out his lawful duties. And police even had the audacity to raise criminal nuisance charges against him.

The police have for long been impervious to public concerns over their conduct and this has battered the country’s image and stifled government’s re-engagement plans with the international community.

The mere fact that Kadzere was butchered after identifying himself as a court official affirms the Zimbabwe Republic Police’s outright disregard for constitutional protections under section 208 of the Constitution — which prohibits them from violating citizens’ fundamental freedoms.

The brazen violation of the Constitution, Zimbabwe’s supreme law, dents confidence among citizens in the law’s ability to protect and defend them.

Citizens’ basic freedoms have for long been under threat, and incidents like what happened last week, only amplify this untenable situation.

All State actors must allow lawyers — as court officials — to discharge their professional duties without fear or favour, just as they are allowed to discharge their mandates.

The assault on Kadzere was not only an assault to the legal profession, but the country’s justice system.

This should be worrying, coming from President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government that has always vowed to be different from the past regime.

The United Nations (UN) has also spoken unequivocally on the issue of lawyers’ harassment. In its guidelines on the rights of the lawyers, the UN states that governments should ensure that lawyers are allowed to perform all their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment and improper interference.

The UN also gives lawyers the right to freely travel and consult with their clients both in their own country and abroad without fear of arrest or prosecution.

The police officers involved in Kadzere’s case and many others implicated in matters involving human defenders should be made to account for their actions in order to safeguard the few remaining remnants of the rule of law in our country.

And to cull this growing culture of impunity within the security sector, there is need for authorities to expedite the establishment of the Independent Complaints Mechanism as provided in section 210 of the Constitution, so that it investigates complaints from the public about the misconduct of security officers.

Impunity will take the country backwards.

We can’t, as a nation, claim to be a democracy when we vilify and criminalise rights defenders with reckless abandon such as in the Kadzere case.

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