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01 Jul 2004 12:57
Zimbabwe’s Parliament has passed a tough new Bill that allows police to hold suspects for three weeks before they are brought to court, an opposition lawmaker said on Thursday.
The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Amendment Bill was passed late on Wednesday despite stiff resistance from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the party’s shadow justice minister David Coltart.
“This is the most fascist legislation passed by this Parliament yet, reminiscent of the worst apartheid-era provisions,” said Coltart.
Under the Bill, suspects arrested on suspicion of corruption or violating security laws would be detained for up to 21 days instead of the 48 hours previously allowed to schedule a court appearance.
The Bill will now be presented to President Robert Mugabe who is expected to sign it into law.
Mugabe’s government had argued that the longer detentions were needed to investigate allegations of financial crimes such as money laundering, illegal foreign currency dealing or gold smuggling.
The opposition sounded the alarm after sections of Zimbabwe’s strict Public Order and Security Act (Posa) were added into the Bill, raising concerns that it would be used to clamp down on strikes and other forms of civil protest.
Coltart said suspects could be detained for weeks under a section of the security law on “subverting the constitutional government” that “has been the most used provision to oppress the opposition”.
Mugabe announced new anti-graft regulations in February, shortly after his government declared “war” against corruption, but Parliament had to enact them within six months.
Officials in Zimbabwe say foreign currency amounting to $6-billion was illegally siphoned out of the country into foreign bank accounts by the end of last year.
The government has blamed the country’s economic crisis, which includes inflation of more than 400% and chronic foreign currency shortages, on corrupt businessmen and government officials.
Several high-profile Zimbabweans, including Finance Minister Christopher Kuruneri, have so far been arrested in the government’s anti-corruption drive.
Earlier this week Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa defended the Bill as a necessary tool for rooting out corruption, and said it was in line with the Constitution.
“My legal conscience is very clear,” Chinamasa told Parliament.
“This Bill is going to be a roll call for those who are for corruption, and for those who are against corruption.”
However, MDC lawmakers shouted him down, saying the law gives too much power to the police and does away with the presumption of innocence. - Sapa-AFP
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