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Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Outraged by Forced Withdrawal of Judge for Newspaper Case - 2003-12-01

Zimbabwe's law society says it is outraged that the judge who ruled in favor of the Daily News in October, was forced to withdraw from the case just days before he was to hold hearings on the paper's request to enforce his judgment. Another judge was appointed to hear the case.

Judge Selo Nare was sent from Zimbabwe's second city Bulawyo to hear the Daily News'application in Harare. The newspaper, Zimbabwe's only independent daily, had asked the court to enforce its earlier ruling that the government media commission that grants licenses to journalists and news media was not legitimately appointed.

But the judge who was to hear the enforcement application withdrew from the case last week. His decision followed reports in the government-controlled media that he had been overheard telling a nurse before the hearing that he would rule in favor of the Daily News.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said over the weekend that the state press attack on the judge, was "contemptuous, unwarranted and calculated to bring the administration of justice into disrepute." The group also charged that the state news media campaign is "part of a wider, deliberate, systematic and sustained general attack on the judiciary to manipulate it, reduce its independence and weaken national institutions vital for the restoration of the rule of law and democracy."

The Daily News legal advisor, Gugulethu Moyo, said Monday she did not know when judgment on the application would be handed down by the replacement judge.

The judge himself said he did not have a typist in Bulawayo, and would have to write the judgment by hand, and then send it to Harare to have it typed. This, he said, would take some time.

The Daily News, which was often critical of President Robert Mugabe's government, was banned last September because, according to the government, it did not obtain a proper license from the media commission. Its offices were shut down and its equipment confiscated. The newspaper has been challenging the ban on its publication in the courts ever since.