Zim rights group to challenge govt on police misconduct law

Harare - A rights group in Zimbabwe is taking President Robert Mugabe's government to court over its failure to bring in laws to deal with police brutality.

The case is being brought before the country's highest court by the Heal Zimbabwe Trust - and the lawyer representing the trust is none other than the country's former finance minister Tendai Biti.

Trust director Rashid Mahiya said that the Zimbabwean government had failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation to "provide an effective and independent mechanism for receiving and investigating complaints from members of the public about misconduct on the part of members of the security services, and for remedying any harm caused by such misconduct".

Zimbabweans adopted a new charter nearly three years ago, in March 2013, after months of haggling during a fraught power-sharing arrangement. 

Biti, who then belonged to Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, was a key negotiator in the drawing-up process.

Zimbabwe's police force earned a reputation for brutality during the difficult 2000-2008 years, when protests by the MDC were routinely quashed. Tsvangirai himself was beaten by police during a protest prayer rally in a Harare township in 2007. 

There have been fewer allegations of police brutality since 2008, although last week baton-wielding riot police were photographed breaking up a demonstration in Harare held by disgruntled civil servants. 

The Heal Zimbabwe Trust's challenge is due to be heard by the Constitutional Court on Wednesday. Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa is a named as respondent.

The Heal Zimbabwe Trust said in a statement on Tuesday: "The demand is also necessitated by increased cases of brutality by the police against innocent civilians and human rights defenders."

Lawyer Biti said in his heads of argument that those who drew up the constitution "intended to advance the cause and case of ordinary citizens abused by the security forces", according to state media this week. Biti is still active in politics, but is no longer a member of the MDC.

Legal think-tank Veritas said the case had been "made more urgent by the increasing number of public demonstrations... and the violence employed by the police to break them up and restore order".

Zimbabweans have been angered by the tendency of some police officers to demand bribes at the many roadblocks set up on the country's ageing road network.

Local tabloid H-Metro reported last week that a premature baby had died after her parents, who were rushing her to hospital, were detained by police in Harare's dormitory town of Chitungwiza. 

H-Metro said the officers accused the father of driving the wrong way up a one-way street. The child's father, named by the paper as Job Kapesa, allegedly could not raise the $50 fine demanded. 

The arresting officers were reported to be municipal police employed by the Chitungwiza council and not members of the security forces.

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