Assault On The Law

In a further sign of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's descent into tyranny, his lackeys are terrorizing the country's lawyers with death threats and physical harm.

Until recently, lawyers were the last line of defense against Mugabe's excesses, long after the country's judiciary capitulated to his power. But in 2006, the state-run newspaper, The Herald, began painting lawyers as tools of the opposition, and in May 2007, the regime began imprisoning members of the legal profession. Others started to get harassed by security forces. "It was a new type of warfare," says Arnold Tsunga, the International Association of Jurists' director for Africa.

Now lawyers are joining Zimbabwe's fleeing millions to escape Mugabe's escalating war against them. Those who remain have taken to sleeping in different locations each night or hiding in safe houses. Some have had their vehicles torched or been threatened with execution. "The impact is to clearly say, if you think that lawyers protect you, they won't," says Otto Saki, of the Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights. "When a government reaches the state of targeting lawyers, you're dealing with a very oppressive, unrepentant and authoritarian system." With Mugabe expected to declare victory in Friday's run-off election, Zimbabwe may soon be a very lawless place indeed.

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