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Zimbabwe Judge Illegally Takes Over Farm on Seized Land

A High Court judge in Zimbabwe has moved onto land the government seized from a white commercial farmer last month, despite a legal order preventing him from doing so.

Judge Ben Hlatshwayo has taken over the farm, in spite of a provisional order from the High Court where he is a justice.

The High Court directed him to remove his possessions from a farm belonging to one of Zimbabwe's top grain producers, Vernon Nicolle. The government seized the land as part of its land reform program.

Judge Hlatshwayo was appointed to the High Court after President Mugabe's supporters threatened Chief Justice Antony Gubbay nearly two years ago. Justice Gubbay, in fear for his life, retired early, and his departure heralded the appointment of several new judges to the higher courts, including Mr. Hlatshwayo.

In a lengthy document, called Justice in Zimbabwe, the respected non-governmental organization The Legal Resources Foundation says all the new appointees are widely viewed as being far less independent than the previous members of the Bench, and more likely to lean heavily in favor of the government.

Judge Hlatshwayo has been involved in many controversial legal cases since his appointment. In the most recent case over which he presided, he sentenced a white farmer to 15 years in prison. The farmer had run over and killed a man who had invaded his farm. The white farmer said the man was on the wrong side of the road, and that he drove into him accidentally. Mr. Hlatshwayo said he did not believe him.

Mr. Hlatshwayo also presided over another controversial case, in which he rejected an election challenge from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. At the time, many lawyers said there was strong evidence of illegalities by the ruling ZANU-PF party and its candidate.

In addition, Judge Hlatshwayo and all the newly appointed judges to the higher courts have participated in decisions supporting the government's often violent land reform program.

Judge Hlatshwayo was not available for comment Friday. The farm's former owner, Mr. Nicolle, said the judge told him the responsibility for the takeover of the farm lay with the government, not him.