/ 14 May 2009

Zim secret police arrests top human rights lawyer

Zimbabwe’s secret police on Thursday arrested top human rights lawyer Alec Muchadehama on as yet unspecified allegations, colleagues said.

Muchadehama was apprehended by three officers of the notorious ”law and order” section of the police at the Harare magistrates’ court while processing release orders for three high-profile political prisoners granted bail on Wednesday.

The arrest is the latest in a series of arrests of court officials, lawyers, journalists and members of Parliament of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), now in coalition with Mugabe’s former ruling Zanu-PF party.

”They have taken him to Harare central [police station],” said Charles Kwaramba, a partner in Muchadehama’s law firm. ”They have been looking for him for the last three days at court.”

No reasons for his arrest were yet available, but Kwaramba said he was ”pretty certain” it was related to what law and order police have called the ”improper release” last week of senior MDC officials Gandhi Mudzingwa and Chris Dhlamini, and journalist Andrison Manyere.

Mudzingwa, Dhlamini and Manyere were formally granted bail by a high court judge on Wednesday.

Police have already arrested a junior court official for passing on to the court registrar a judge’s instruction for their release.

Muchadehama is repeatedly harassed, threatened and followed by secret police because of his undaunted defence of the victims of political persecution and violence carried out under Mugabe’s watch.

Observers say that police, who are under the control of senior officers fiercely loyal to Mugabe, appear to be deliberately flaunting the rule of law to try to undermine the new power-sharing government.

The agreement that spawned the unity government, in which MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is prime minister under Mugabe as president, calls for an end to political repression and for human rights reforms.

Western governments have balked at unlocking much-needed development aid to Zimbabwe until the crackdown on activists and MDC members and the invasion of white-owned farms is halted.

The MDC is also protesting Mugabe’s unilateral appointment of his cronies to run the central bank and as attorney-general. — Sapa-dpa