The son of a provincial governor appointed by Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and three activists with Mugabe's ZANU-PF party have begun serving jail terms, after they were convicted of beating a Movement for Democratic Change [MDC] activist to death. Human rights groups say very few ZANU-PF activists have been found guilty of murder in Zimbabwe’s highly charged political atmosphere since the MDC party was launched 12 years ago.
Farayi Machaya, son of powerful ZANU-PF governor Jason Machaya, and three other activists began serving 18-year jail terms this week, after being found guilty of the MDC's activist's death.
Two soldiers who assisted with the crime were given suspended sentences by Bulawayo High Court judge Nicholas Muthonsi. He told the court the sentence should send a “clear message on the sanctity of life.”
Moses Chokuda was beaten to death in March 2009 in central Zimbabwe, a month after ZANU-PF and the two MDC parties entered into an inclusive government.
Chokuda was accused of theft by his attackers. Judge Muthonsi told the accused they should have reported the matter to the police and not taken the law into their own hands.
Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group say the overwhelming majority of murder victims in Zimbabwe in the last 12 years were members of the MDC. They say about 300 MDC supporters were killed during elections in 2008 alone.
Human Rights Watch and domestic violence monitoring groups say most of the political violence was carried out by ZANU-PF supporters. The groups say the cases against the ZANU-PF supporters are well-documented from first-hand witnesses, but only a handful have been prosecuted.
ZANU-PF officials routinely deny these accusations. The party controls the police and the justice ministry in the inclusive government.
Culture of impunity
The MDC party says failure to prosecute murders of its members has encouraged a culture of impunity.
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute recently concluded a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe and reported the systematic erosion of the judiciary's independence.
It said there was "selective application of the law and that many judges were beneficiaries of white-owned farms and lavish gifts, which created an obvious source of patronage and pressure over them."
Legal experts who asked not to be named said they hoped that Judge Muthonsi would be allowed to continue with his reformist role in Bulawayo’s High Court. The experts say his rulings have changed some of the court's old ways.
In one recent case, he ordered militant supporters of Mugabe to stop exhuming hundreds of skeletons they say were the victims of colonial-era massacres. The judge said the excavation would destroy forensics needed to make proper identification of the bodies.