Zimbabwe: Supreme Court ruling a win for rights over government intimidation

MONTREAL – Sept. 29, 2009 – Today’s ruling by Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court against government-led efforts to prosecute prominent human rights defender Jestina Mukoko on charges of terrorism marks an important step toward a return to judicial independence in the country, says Rights & Democracy.

The Supreme Court ruling grants Ms. Mukoko, Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a permanent stay of prosecution. The court ruled that state security agents who abducted her from her home last December, beat her and held her incommunicado for three weeks, had grossly violated her rights. During this time, Ms. Mukoko was forced into making a false confession about her involvement in a plot to topple to government.

The Zimbabwe government should immediately seek remedy and reparations for Ms. Mukoko for the violations committed against her while in custody and prosecute those responsible for her arbitrary arrest and torture.

 “We hope this ruling sends a strong signal to Zimbabwe’s government that the country’s judicial system is an independent tool for protecting rights,” said Razmik Panossian, Director of Programmes, Policy and Planning at Rights & Democracy. “For too long the system has been abused as a means of harassing and silencing the government’s critics.”

The Zimbabwe Peace Project is an important source of independent information on political violence in Zimbabwe. The organization is one of Zimbabwe’s most outspoken critics of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party, and a frequent target of intimidation and threats by Zanu-PF loyalists.

Rights & Democracy wishes to acknowledge the important role Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights played in Ms. Mukoko’s defence. ZLHR was the 2008 winner of Rights & Democracy’s John Humphrey Award.