Amid jubilant scenes outside the Supreme Court in Harare, democracy and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, was today released after being granted a permanent stay of criminal proceedings.
The judgment “can be read as a movement toward the restoration of an independent justice-delivery system,” said Irene Petras, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Innocent Gonese, a parliamentarian with the Movement for Democratic Change, hoped the judgment would be “the beginning of good things to come, politically.”
But Petras warned against over-optimism, noting that the government continues to persecute activists despite a power-sharing agreement with the former opposition.
Her caution is shared by Harrison Nkomo, one of Mukoko’s lawyers, dismissed the idea that the decision represented a return to the rule of law. “No, this was a one-shot, a rare judgment,” he said.
The continuing struggle of democracy and civil society activists was recently highlighted when Lovemore Matombo, president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), received the 2009 Courage Award from the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) Workers’ Group.
Matombo has been arrested, beaten, and tortured by the Zimbabwean police for leading protests over low pay and workers’ worsening poverty due to inadequate monthly wages. In 2006, Matombo and ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibebe were beaten unconscious after police brutally broke up their protest for better pay and access to anti-retroviral HIV/AIDS drugs. Matombo suffered serious head injuries and fractures to his arm. An ILO delegation recently visited Zimbabwe to investigate allegations of torture stemming from the incident. A report is expected later this year.