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Zimbabwe judiciary's autonomy questioned

by Staff reporter
12 Dec 2018 at 13:48hrs | Views
The trial of MDC national chairperson Tendai Biti, pictured, who is facing two counts of violating the Electoral Act, opened a can of worms yesterday with the defence team revealing scintillating details of behind-the-scenes manoeuvres that seem to compromise the independence of the Judiciary.

Biti is facing two counts of violating the Electoral Act by making unofficial or false declaration of poll results for the hotly contested July 30 elections that were narrowly won by Zanu-PF leader Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Through his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, Biti wants the chief prosecutor Michael Reza to be held in contempt of court after he allegedly sent a damning message denigrating Harare magistrate Gloria Takundwa, who is presiding over the case.

Reza meant to send the message to Thabani Mpofu who leads the Special Prosecuting Unit in the President's Office but accidentally sent it to Advocate Thabani Mpofu, who represented MDC leader Nelson Chamisa in his failed poll challenge heard in the Constitutional Court in August.

Reza is said to have savaged Takundwa through a note sent via the short message service (SMS) for allowing journalists to live stream the court proceedings.

Mtetwa read out the message in court, leaving the gallery in stitches.

It reads: "Cde Mpofu. It's Reza, how are you? Another strange ruling by the magistrate trying Tendai Biti. They applied for live streaming of the case, with cameras and journalists in court and proceedings beamed all over the world. She has just agreed to that without authority of her boss the Chief Justice (Luke Malaba). She is either very brave or very stupid or both, kkkkkk."

Mtetwa argued in court yesterday that Reza's utterances suggest lack of independency on the part of the courts.

"In our view, there is no question that the message is contemptuous. He says you have made another strange ruling.

"It also suggests that your worship should have sought instructions from the Chief Justice. This suggests lack of independence of the courts," she said.

Biti's attorney also notified the court that she has since communicated with the Chief Justice through the Chief Registrar since he was mentioned in the text.

In response, instructing prosecutor Jonathan Murombedzi requested time to verify whether the message was indeed from Reza and to ascertain whether the message was contemptuous.

Takundwa was forced to halt proceedings and refer the matter to the High Court for guidance.

She said she will refer the matter on an urgent basis.

"The court will decide on the application after hearing the response of the High Court," she said.

Following the development, Mtetwa notified the court that she intends to apply for relaxation of bail conditions.

The matter was rolled over to today for full application

Biti's trial commenced on Monday with the MDC senior official denying the allegations.

He also took exception to the charges put to him, saying they do not disclose a crime.

He said there was unnecessary splitting of the charges which he said are exactly the same.

Biti also insisted that the court has no jurisdiction to prosecute him as he was abducted from Zambia against a High Court order from that country allowing him to stay and seek asylum.

He argued that prosecuting him is a violation of regional and continental laws regarding the extradition of persons facing offenses of a political nature.

Recently, Takundwa had recused Reza from prosecuting Biti over his lack of judicial independence.

Source - dailynews