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Zimbabwe: UN expert urges release of detained law society officials

Zimbabwe: UN expert urges release of detained law society officials

A United Nations expert today called for the unconditional release of two law society officials arrested earlier this month in Zimbabwe and charged with possessing "subversive" material.

Dato' Param Cumaraswamy, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, was reacting to charges lodged against the President of the Law Society, Sternford Moyo, and its Executive Secretary, Wilbert Mapombere. The two are being held for alleged possession of "subversive" documents relating to a mass action allegedly planned by the Movement for Democratic Change.

In a statement released in Geneva, the Rapporteur said that none of these alleged documents were found during police searches of the suspects' homes. "Both the President and the Executive Secretary are charged under the draconian Public Order and Security Act for an offence which provides for a maximum 20 years imprisonment," he noted.

Based on information he has received, Mr. Cumaraswamy voiced his conviction that both Law Society leaders "have been arrested, detained and charged for expressing their association's concerns over the deterioration of the rule of law in Zimbabwe."

The Special Rapporteur, who has previously expressed concern over the acceleration of "governmental lawlessness" in Zimbabwe, said today this latest incident "further reflects the continuation of the systematic attacks on the independence of judges and lawyers by the Government and its agencies." He called on the Government to comply with its international obligations, respect the role of lawyers, release the two leaders of the Law Society, and unconditionally withdraw all charges against them.