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Zimbabwe Judge Released on Bail - 2002-09-16

The first judge ever to be arrested in Zimbabwe's history was released on bail Monday. Retired Judge Feargus Blackie is accused of obstructing the ends of justice. The judge, who is white, has been charged with overturning the sentence and conviction of a white woman who was found guilty by a lower court.

His alleged crime is that he heard the appeal with a colleague from the high court, but her signature was not included on the document he signed ordering the woman's release. Mr. Blackie is accused of violating court procedure by passing the judgment without the approval of his colleague.

The case was heard in May this year, just weeks before Judge Blackie's retirement after more than 20 years on the bench.

Legal analysts speculate that the government's interest in Judge Blackie has less to do with his handling of the case against the woman than to a ruling he made against Justice Minister Patrick Chinamsa.

In his last act before retiring, Judge Blackie sentenced the justice minister to three months in prison on two charges of contempt of court. Mr. Chinamsa's sentence was set aside after Judge Blackie retired in July.

Judge Blackie was arrested before dawn last Friday, and held incommunicado for 32 hours.

A judicial watchdog in Zimbabwe, the Legal Resources Foundation, said Monday that the judge's detention was "chillingly reminiscent of the tactics of the "apartheid regime" in South Africa.

The group said it was not necessary to arrest the judge and that the matter could have been more properly handled by giving him a summons to appear before the court.

Judge Blackie, composed and expressionless when he arrived at court Monday, was not asked to plea, and had to pay bail of $10,000 (Zimbabwe), or about $12 (US). His case is scheduled to be heard on November 18.