Attorneys for white farmers accused of attacking land invaders in Zimbabwe, have protested to a court about their treatment. The lawyers claim the farmers had been mistreated in jail and officials have interfered with their case.

Jeremy Callow, leader of the team of lawyers defending the farmers, asked the court at Chinhoyi in northern Zimbabwe on Friday to drop the charges against the men. He said legal processes and rights had been totally ignored by Zimbabwe authorities.

The court ruled that it did not have the power to decide on the application to drop the charges and said the defense should apply to a higher court. The 21 farmers have not yet been asked to state their innocence or guilt.

Mr. Callow said the farmers had been refused access to lawyers when they were arrested. He said they had been treated as convicted criminals in the 16 days they were in prison before getting bail.

The farmers were arrested August 6 near Chinhoyi, after they went to the aid of a colleague whose farm was under siege and clashed with farm invaders and pro-government militants.

The incident ignited two weeks of violent invasions of white-owned farms by black squatters and militants. More than 40 white-owned farms were looted and some homes burned.

The defense lawyer says the wife of one of the farmers was also beaten by pro-government militants at a police station. Mr. Callow accused senior politicians and the Zimbabwe government media of making public statements that assume the farmers to be guilty.

Shortly after the farmers were arrested, Peter Chanetsa, the governor of the province where the clash with land invaders occurred, was quoted by government media as saying that prison is what he terms, "the only home for the farmers."

Mr. Callow said there has been what he called extreme political interference, with the police being excluded and investigations into the incident being carried out by the ruling ZANU (PF) party in conjunction with leaders of pro-government militant mobs.