WE welcome the release of Jestina Mukoko from custody this week together with other civic and MDC activists last week after enduring more than three months of inhuman treatment at the hands of the state.
In welcoming the release of Mukoko and other activists we must not lose sight of the fact that the saga is emblematic of everything that has gone wrong with governance in this society.
For extended periods into the crisis that has befallen this country, state institutions have developed a culture of impunity in which human dignity has been relegated to a footnote on government’s manual of how to treat suspects.
The state has denied in affidavits deposed to the courts that the activists were tortured. In fact the state has presented justifications at every turn for the apparent violation of the activists’ rights. But medical records have revealed otherwise hence the need to have the detainees treated at a hospital.
The case of Mukoko and others is an illustration of our rulers’ cruelty and in a number of respects brazen advertisement to the world that the state is prepared to subvert human rights in the name of safeguarding national stability.
The Mukoko saga is therefore an opportunity for the nation to reflect on some of the ills still bedevilling us notwithstanding the formation of the GNU.
However egregious their supposed crimes —— and let’s not forget Botswana and South Africa have rejected the charges of militia training as ludicrous and self-serving —— the activists did not deserve to be abducted, tortured, beaten on the soles of their feet and denied medical attention.
Then there has been the abuse of Section 121 of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to deny suspects release on bail even when the High Court had granted them bail.
The section provides prosecutors with the opportunity to file a notice of intention to appeal against a bail ruling.
By noting an intention to appeal, a magistrate’s order to release a suspect is immediately suspended, giving the prosecution seven days to prepare an appeal, during which time the accused must remain in police custody. This law has been employed selectively in political cases and has no place in a democratic society.
MDC treasurer Roy Bennett who was granted bail by the High Court has also been a victim of this cynical manoeuvre by the state. He was granted bail by the High Court last week and the state immediately invoked Section 121 to keep him behind bars.
Now the state has appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse the decision of the High Court. That is political punishment writ large.
The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act has become the state’s latest political weapon in subverting suspects’ rights. It is being challenged in the Supreme Court with the activists’ lawyers arguing that the statute is being abused by the state to undermine the rights of litigants.
We are now not sure whether the constitutional challenge to Section 121 will continue in the courts after the murky deal struck between the state and defence lawyers. The state agreed to grant the accused bail on condition they dropped the challenge to Section 121.
The accused activists were also urged to drop court proceedings to have state institutions, and the police in particular, investigated over allegations of abduction and torture.
The state has said it was prepared to release MDC activists who have not been brought to court on condition that their lawyers withdraw court applications seeking to compel the police to say where the detainees had been held and by whom.
The deal between the state and the defence lawyers resulted in the release of the political detainees but unfortunately it has in the short term airbrushed a good opportunity for the merits of the law to be challenged in court. As long as the piece of legislation remains on our statute books the government will always find a convenient opportunity to use it.
This manoeuvre by the state should not be allowed to prevail over the quest to identify those responsible for authorising and administering torture. As indicated by lawyers this week it should not prevent future legal action by the abductees against the state and the state agents responsible for their abduction, unlawful detention and torture.
The new Zimbabwe which the unity government envisages can only subsist in an environment where the tools of yesteryear are dismantled. As we said, Mukoko’s case is emblematic. She has been abducted, abused and beaten. Even in the Avenues Clinic she was shackled to her bed. Court orders to relieve her plight were ignored.
At least the world has now seen the face of the beast that the democratic movement is up against. This week Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa was claiming that Zimbabwe’s human rights record was no worse than that of other states. In fact it couldn’t be worse.Â It is incumbent upon the GNU to demonstrate real change really quickly so we are no longer contaminated by this horror.