Zimbabwean lawyers have not escaped the wrath of political violence visited on that country by the state and ruling party supporters.
This week the Law Society of Botswana hosted a Zimbabwean lawyer Andrew Makoni who is on the run, having fled his country after he learnt that his life was in danger.
Before he fled his country, Makoni and his partners at their law firm had been continually arrested and harassed by the state “only for being lawyers who, having taken our oath, dared to defend our clients.”
Addressing a press conference on Friday, Makoni said democratic space has shrunk, adding that the same violence that is meted against opposition activists has now been extended to human rights lawyers and Non-Governmental activists.
He said it has become practically impossible for human rights litigants in Zimbabwe to go about their work without interference from government and its supporters.
Makoni said it would be a miracle if the coming presidential elections run-off was free and fair.
“There is no clear separation of powers in Zimbabwe. Four months after elections the Members of Parliament have not been sworn in. They have not sat for a single day,” he said.
He said the situation is such that lawyers who remain inside the country will not be able to carry out their duties as that would put their lives in danger.
The same situation applied to judicial officers like magistrates, with two of them already arrested under suspicions that they were sympathetic to the opposition.
“Some magistrates have also fled the country,” said Makoni.
He said the biggest to bear the brunt of this state harassment against the lawyers are the people who reside in the rural areas.
This, he said, is because the rural areas are the un-safest places in Zimbabwe, and no lawyer would want to work from there.
“Clients in the rural areas have been abandoned because of safety precautions,” he said.
Makoni added that prisons in Zimbabwe are filled with people facing criminal charges that are by and large politically motivated.
He said the international community has to help his country by significantly beefing up the numbers of election observers.
To illustrate the intensity of political persecution on lawyers by the state, a Senior Advocate, Eric Matinenga, remains in jail for having represented the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, during the treason trial.
The Chairman of the Botswana Law Society, Duma Boko, said the coming elections in Zimbabwe are a ‘farce’ because Robert Mugabe has already announced he will not honour the outcome if he loses.
He said it is important that there is no special democracy for Africa where the loser always ends up remaining in power.
In this respect Boko deplored the bad precedent set in Kenya where concessions were made to allow the loser (President Mwai Kibaki) to continue in power.