Zimbabwe : attacks on judiciary continue as former High Court Judge arrested

Today the ICJ wrote to Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to express deep concern over the arrest of former High Court Judge Fergus Blackie.

His detention constitutes the latest in a series of attacks by the Government of Zimbabwe against the independent judiciary. It marks a further and serious erosion of the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
Justice Blackie was arrested on 13 September 2002 on accusations of “defeating or obstructing the course of justice”. The charges against Justice Blackie were said to arise from his decision to overturn a fraud conviction in a criminal case without having consulted a judicial colleague who had heard the case with him.

The context and circumstances of the arrest strongly point to a political motive in the government’s actions.

Earlier this year, Justice Blackie came under severe criticism from Government officials for imposing a three-month prison sentence for contempt of court on Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa – subsequently overturned- because the Minister had failed to appear in court to respond to charges relating to his criticism of the High Court.

Justice Blackie was arrested, rather than presented with summons, as would be the usual procedure; the arrest took place at 4:00 am on a Friday, when it would be difficult to contact lawyers and the outside world; the authorities initially denied knowledge of his whereabouts; and he was allegedly denied food, medication and access to lawyers and family members during his first day in detention.

The ICJ fears that the actions taken against Justice Blackie will dissuade other judges from exercising independence when their decisions might run contrary to Government policy. It has urged Government officials to respect the independence of the judiciary and cease such harassment.

In 2001 the authorities forced the resignation of Supreme Court Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay following rulings that had gone against the Government. Since then, a number of senior judges have left the bench, often following political pressure.

The ICJ will continue to monitor the situation.

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