By Alex Bell
08 November 2012
A human rights lawyer has been threatened by a Supreme Court judge this week, in what observers say is deliberate intimidation.
Charles Kwaramba from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) was threatened with contempt of court charges by Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku. He is defending the 29 MDC-T members accused over the death of Glen View policeman Petros Mutedza last year.
The case has dragged on despite a lack of evidence implicating the arrested group, and repeated attempts to have them released on bail have failed. Kwaramba, who is one of the many respected ZLHR lawyers representing the arrested group, was questioned by the Daily News newspaper last month about the delays.
Kwaramba explained on Thursday that the newspaper incorrectly quoted him criticising High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu, which led him being called into chambers to explain. Kwaramba told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that he thought he had clarified the situation with Justice Bhunu during that “routine housekeeping talk.”
However, Bhunu then used the situation as part of his judgment in once again denying the MDC-T members bail, accusing Kwaramba of ‘contempt’.
“He said what I had done was close to being contentious… I eventually wrote to the Supreme Court for direction because I was not granted the opportunity to defend myself,” Kwaramba said.
But Chief Justice Chidyausiku responded to this letter by warning Kwaramba against “disrespecting” the courts. He added that Kwaramba should consider himself “lucky” for being spared from prosecution for contempt of court.
Observers have said that the case demonstrates not only the ongoing intimidation facing human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, but also the blatant partisan nature of the legal system.