Two Zimbabwean human rights lawyers appeared in court on Tuesday on charges of preventing the police from questioning their clients. Their clients are two members of the opposition party who were allegedly kidnapped and tortured, sources say.
The police arrested lawyers Douglas Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi in a Harare hospital when they objected when the police wanted to question their clients. They argued that their clients were medically not in a condition to answer questions.
Coltart and Muchineripi, who spent the evening in jail, are facing charges of obstruction of justice.
The two’s clients are a council member who was recently elected and an activist for the country’s largest opposition group, the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC).
Coltart and Muchineripi’s lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, said in court that the lawyers’ arrest was “illegal”. According to him, the police initially had a “friendly” conversation with the two lawyers and agreed to return later.
However, another police officer who visited the hospital later acted “dramatically” and accused the two of obstruction of justice.
The CCC condemned the arrests and said the charges were frivolous.
Coltart and Muchineripi were released on the equivalent of $100 (about R1 900) bail each.
Their clients, Womberaishe Nhende and Sanele Mkhulhani, were forced out of their vehicle by suspected armed government agents on Saturday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) argued in a statement. They were handcuffed, shocked with stun guns, beaten with clubs and ‘injected with an unknown substance’ before being left naked next to a river.
They were “both victims of kidnapping, torture and drugging by suspected state agents”, the CCC said.
The result of the election last month in Zimbabwe, where Emmerson Mnangagwa of the Zanu-PF emerged as leader over the CCC leader Nelson Chamisa, is disputed.
Mnangagwa (80) was sworn in on Monday when he received 52.6% of the votes against 45-year-old Chamisa’s 44%, according to official figures.
The CCC condemns the result as flawed and demands a new election. Regional and international observers also condemned the election for various irregularities.