Judge President urges Robert Mugabe to uphold rule of law

Harare – A senior judge in Zimbabwe said Monday the judiciary expected signatories to the country's power-sharing administration to uphold the rule of law and respect human rights.

Rita Makarau, who heads the High Court, said she was confident President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU PF party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would lead by example and respect the courts.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai last February formed a coalition government following a disputed election.

Zimbabwe’s judiciary has been largely purged of independent judges by Mugabe’s government since 2000. It has been accused by human rights groups of lacking courage to defend the rights of citizens in the country.

 

Makarau spoke a day before the start of the trial of MDC treasurer Roy Bennett, who has been charged with terrorism. Bennett, Tsvangirai’s choice as junior agriculture minister, faces a death sentence if convicted.

 

He can serve life imprisonment if he is found guilty of another charge of inciting people to commit terrorism. Bennett denies the charges, saying they were trumped up to destabilize his party.

The Zimbabwean opposition politician Roy Bennett will go on trial again on Tuesday, charged with treason. But despite facing a possible death sentence if he’s found guilty, the MDC treasurer told RNW he’s hopeful for the future of democracy in his country.

Bennett has long been a thorn in President Robert Mugabe’s side. The white former farmer was elected in 2000 and faced continuous intimidation from the ruling Zanu PF party. Now he’s accused of treason and plotting to kill the controversial Zimbabwean leader and says he’s seriously concerned his hearing won’t be a fair one:

“Obviously I feel very apprehensive. When you’re on trial for something you didn’t do and the charges are all trumped up and you’re in a country where there’s selective application of the rule of law and basically a judiciary system that’s seriously compromised, what do you expect?”

Secret police

Roy Bennett was seized by secret police in February last year just three days after the Movement for Democratic Change and Zanu PF formed a unity government. He was later taken to a prison near the city of Mutare and charged with treason, and sentenced to a year behind bars.

Despite having described his eight months in Chikurubi prison as something he would never forget, he decided not to seek exile in neighbouring South Africa before tomorrow’s trial:

“This is about a fight for democracy, it’s about a fight for a better life for Zimbabweans. As a leader with a constituency it is my duty to fight in the best interests of the majority to have a better world so we have a country that has good governance and returns investment to the country and picks Zimbabwe up and moves it forward.”

Optimistic

Despite the opposition he’s faced – not to mention the fact he’s never been able to take up his post as deputy agriculture minister in the coalition – Roy Bennett told RNW he remains upbeat about lies ahead for Zimbabwe:

“I think Zimbabwe has a tremendous future. We just have to get past this period now and allow the people’s voice to be heard and their will to be respected.”