PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe yesterday came under withering fire from political and civic organisations for again threatening the independence of the judiciary by criticising a ruling by the newly crea
ted Electoral Court.
In the ruling this week the court allowed jailed Movement for Democratic Change MP Roy Bennett to contest the forthcoming legislative poll in Chimanimani constituency.
The judgement, handed down by Justice Tendai Uchena on Tuesday in the first case to be heard by the court, said Bennett was not a criminal as his offence, that of pushing Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa during a parliamentary debate last year, was not covered in the criminal statutes.
Mugabe described the ruling as “nonsense” at a rally in Chipinge. He said his government would appeal against it. He told his supporters to proceed as if nothing had happened.
“That is absolute nonsense,” Mugabe was quoted as saying in the official press yesterday.
The International Bar Association (IBA) immediately blasted Mugabe for the slur advising the ageing leader to respect the independence of the judiciary.
“President Mugabe’s reaction to the first decision of the newly established Electoral Court gives particular cause for concern, given the deep culture of threats and intimidation of the judiciary and precarious state of the country’s judicial institutions, whose independence has been severely undermined by years of sustained assaults led by the executive,” Tim Hughes, deputy executive director of the IBA, told the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday.
“The Zimbabwean government should be mindful of the fact that the world is monitoring their compliance with the Sadc guidelines on democratic elections which enjoin member states to guarantee inde-pendence of the judiciary and impartiality of the electoral institutions.”
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change described Mugabe’s statement as an “indecent assault on the judiciary”. MDC spokesman Tendai Biti said Mugabe’s utterance was as “tragic as it was puerile.”
“For a state president to describe a ruling by a competent court of law as ‘madness’ is not only outright contempt of court but an indecent assault on the judiciary,” Biti said. “Whilst legitimate criticisms of judgments is essential in any jurisdiction, circumspection and objectivity are always required, particularly when it is the executive making the criticism.”
Biti said the MDC was eager to see what action Attorney-General Sobusa Gula Ndebele would take.
Prominent human rights lawyer Sternford Moyo of Harare-based law firm Scanlen & Holderness said Mugabe’s criticism of the judicial decision was not “couched in temperate, respectful or restrained terms”.
“One can only express the hope that an appropriate intervention by the Chief Justice, Attorney-General and Minister of Justice will take place in order to minimise the negative impact of the remarks on the due administration of justice,” Moyo said.
However, Johannes Tomana of Harare-based legal firm Mandaza, Muzangaza & Tomana said Mugabe was exercising his constitutional right to criticise the judicial decision.