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S. Africa's Chief Justice Critical of Arrest of Retired Zimbabwe Judge - 2002-09-19

South Africa's internationally respected chief justice has severely criticized the arrest of retired Zimbabwe Judge Feargus Blackie. South African Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson says the arrest is deplorable, and threatens the independence of Zimbabwe's judiciary.

Justice Chaskalson says whatever the intention of Zimbabwe's authorities, the impression is that their goal was to humiliate retired judge Feargus Blackie and to intimidate other judges.

Judge Chaskalson, who is also president of South Africa's constitutional court, issued a statement saying the allegations against judge Blackie did not warrant his arrest and detention for several days before being brought before a court and released on bail.

The retired Zimbabwean judge is charged with obstructing justice in an appeal case in which he overturned a woman's conviction on theft charges. He reportedly did not get the concurrence of his co-judge before issuing the decision.

The woman has also been charged with obstructing justice, amid allegations in the state media and court papers that she was having an affair with Judge Blackie. Both have denied the allegations. The woman's lawyer says she had never met Judge Blackie before he heard her theft case on appeal.

Judge Chaskalson is renowned in South Africa and abroad as a fierce campaigner against apartheid, South Africa's former race-based political system. As head of the Legal Resources Center in Johannesburg he challenged many apartheid laws in the courts and defended numerous activists charged under discriminatory laws. Among those were several of the defendants in the well-known Rivonia Treason Trial in 1963 and 1964, in which former president Nelson Mandela and his co-accused were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The Chief Justice is the primary author of South Africa's current constitution and participated in the drafting of Namibia's constitution 12 years ago. He is a member of the International Commission of Jurists and of the International Chamber of Commerce's Permanent Court of Arbitration.