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Zimbabwe Accuses Legal Society of Prejudging Election


A Zimbabwean government spokesman has denounced a Law Society of Zimbabwe statement that conditions in Zimbabwe are not conducive for the holding of a free and fair election on March 31. The authorities are saying the lawyers are guilty of prejudging the poll.

Dismissing the lawyers' statement, George Charamba, the Zimbabwean Secretary for Information and Publicity, said the legal body sounded like a "very ignorant Law Society."

Mr. Charamba, who was quoted in the state-controlled daily, The Herald, said the society's statement was politically motivated willful ignorance.

"It is difficult how such learned people could be ignorant of the laws of the country," he said.

The society also criticized the country's Public Order and Security Act, the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Broadcasting Services Act. In its statement, the Law Society said the measures limited the ability of Zimbabweans to express themselves freely.

The Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is widely criticized as an attempt by the government to muzzle the independent media. Under the Act four newspapers have been banned and journalists arrested. It also requires publishing houses and journalists to register with a government appointed media commission to operate.

Among its provisions, the Public Order and Security Act requires police permission for public meetings. The Herald says it was created to ensure public order, peace and security in the face of continued violent mass actions and strikes by the opposition and other, what are termed "anti-Zimbabwe" civic organizations.

The president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Joseph James, told VOA that one of his society's complaints is what he called the selective application of that law.

"We hear so many reports of breaches of the law by the opposition, but very few cases are attributed to the ruling party," he said.

The Herald article said the lawyers' criticism of laws such as the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, "runs contrary to the ruling by the Supreme Court that the Act was constitutional."

Mr. James said a bad law does not become good because the Supreme Court says it is constitutional. He added Zimbabwe does not need legislation that denies citizens their human rights, as the country is not at war. He added that judicial appointments over the past five years have resulted in a Supreme Court bench that is not "too robust in standing up for human rights".

The government spokesman, Mr. Charamba, said the Law Society showed where its affinity lay by joining Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, British prime minister Tony Blair and U.S. president George Bush, in prejudging the upcoming poll.

The Law Society of Zimbabwe is one of the 29 local organizations invited by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to observe the election next week. At the time of the invitations, Mr. Chinamasa said the organizations had been invited for their non-partisan stance.

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