Tinoziva Bere talks about Maguwu case on BTH
This week on Behind the Headlines SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to Tinoziva Bere, one of the lawyers representing human rights activist Farai Maguwu. Bere and his team watched helplessly as Mugabe’s regime put pressure on the legal system to keep Maguwu detained for nearly 40 days in remand prison. After huge domestic and international pressure the courts eventually freed Maguwu on bail, this week Monday. So what happens next and will the charges be dropped?
Interview broadcast 15 July 2010
Lance Guma: Hallo Zimbabwe and welcome to Behind the Headlines. This week we speak to the man who was part of the defence team for human rights activist Farai Maguwu. We speak to Zimbabwean lawyer Tinoziva Bere who had to watch while his client spent 39 days in custody. Mr Bere thank you for joining us on the programme.
Tinoziva Bere: Thank you.
LG: Now first of all, congratulations on your client being released this week, Monday. Did that come as a surprise to you?
TB: A pleasant surprise as it was about time. The time it had taken was abnormal and you know the wheels of justice sometimes take time to turn but this time but this time they were taking a little longer so it was, yes, a pleasant surprise.
LG: Now from the way events unfolded – the police raided Mr Maguwu’s Centre for Research and Development in Mutare, Farai went temporarily into hiding, they went to his house looking for him, even spent a couple of days there, eating his food, using his blankets and everything – did you ever imagine he would spend this long in custody?
TB: Initially no because Farai went to the police station voluntarily, handed himself over so we assumed that even though the police might have been malicious to keep him inside for as long as they could before going to court, we assumed the moment the court heard the story that he came on his own, the court was going to regard him as a suitable candidate for bail and so we were quite shocked that first the court put him on remand on those kinds of charges and that denied him bail.
And then the High Court, before Justice Bhunu also did not think that he was a good candidate for bail and we had to go back to the magistrate who surprisingly also denied him bail and I think at that stage, we were beginning to wonder whether this case would be dealt with in the normal way or not and to some extent we were feeling a little disillusioned. But you have to keep trying and so we did keep trying, we were not going to make it easy for them to keep Farai in jail so we continued pushing.
LG: Now in cases like this, 39 days is quite a long time and the basics tend to be forgotten, can you put us in the picture for those who are forgetting, what exactly is the State accusing your client, Mr Maguwu of doing?
TB: When Farai was arrested and put in jail when I had taken him to the police station, the reason given to us was that he was facing allegations of having given an undisclosed document to Chikane, which document was alleged to be a State security document which was meant for JOMIC and he denied these allegations and then he was put in jail at Mutare. Two nights later, Farai had blankets removed from him and when he woke up in the morning he had a throat infection, he had a fever and he had a chest infection.
We demanded that he be treated, this was declined and so for two days he received no treatment until he was taken by Harare police to the hospital where a nurse prescribed some medication. He took that medication once and then someone threw it away. We then went to court and the charges changed.
This time they said he had published a report to three named persons and the report that he had allegedly published was said to be a false report and so the charge was now contravention of Section 31 of the Criminal Code which is publishing falsehoods against the State which is likely to prejudice the interests of the State and then started the battle to try and get Farai out of jail, but the charges then that he was facing were now based on a draft report by the Centre for Research and Development based in Mutare.
LG: OK so he was freed this Monday after 39 days as you pointed out, what does it mean? From here, what happens next?
TB: From now the battle turns to the issue of his property. When they did the raid, they took his assets which include his motor vehicle, personal documentation and other items that he does not know because they did not leave a list of what they took so in court yesterday we demanded that they must produce a list of the assets that they took and also that of those assets which they took, everything that is not evidence against Farai must be surrendered and that will include the motor vehicle.
And the Order was granted, of course our disappointment, we asked that this be done in two days because we don’t believe a document that is at Law and Order offices can take more than two days to produce and the court thought they need two weeks to do that. Disappointing but not surprising because this has been the pattern that the rights of accused persons are secondary to the rights of the State which is not so in a civilised society.
LG: Now the investigating officer in this particular case has been arguing, as you have also said in the past, that he wants more time to investigate. Pretty weird that they would arrest somebody, then investigate later instead of investigating before arresting but anyway the point is Detective Inspector Dowa is saying he wants to speak to the Kimberley Process monitor Abbey Chikane but we are seeing reports where Chikane is saying he has no intentions of meeting Dowa and even if they were to meet he would have nothing to say. Have you had sight or read these reports?
TB: I have not heard this report but what I know is that the report by Chikane to the Kimberley community clearly laid allegations which laid the basis for Farai’s arrest and when you read that report, Chikane is not a Zimbabwean lawyer but Chikane enlisted the services of the police or the authorities to frame and record in his report criminal allegations against Farai.
We don’t think that happened by accident, we think it was part of the plot to discredit the criticism that the government was facing. We have never believed Dowa when he said that he was going to South Africa to speak to Chikane because they had already spoken to Chikane, they were already given information by Chikane and by Dowa’s own testimony, Chikane surrendered documents that he gave to them before he left the country and for Dowa to say that he was going to South Africa to meet Chikane at a time when Dowa would have known that Chikane was in Tel Aviv attending the Kimberley meeting, it’s just ridiculous.
So we believe the excuse that he wanted to see Chikane was intended only for purposes of ensuring that they had an excuse that they were still investigating in order to keep Farai in jail.
LG: Now the other excuse they offered was that parts of the matter needed the involvement of Interpol and that they described these as extra-territorial investigations that needed to be made. What’s the status of those?
TB: You should have been in court when he gave that evidence and he was asked first and foremost to produce his passport to show he had gone to South Africa – he then said he had no passport and he was asked how he had gone and he explained that the South African police had assisted him to border jump into South Africa which we all found to be ridiculous.
But the other strange contradiction of course was that he said that he had enlisted the services of Interpol. We all know that you would not ask Interpol to perform a task by word of mouth so he was asked to bring a copy of the instruction or request that he had sent to Interpol and he could not produce one so this is why I said I don’t believe anything he said, it was an excuse to keep Farai in jail, there are no investigations of that nature going on.
And if Chikane says they have not been in touch with him and he has no plans to meet with them, he might be telling the truth because he has already done the damage to Farai. He has had Farai in prison for 40 days for nothing and he has given credibility to the Zimbabwean process which Farai was critical of.
LG: Now this particular case – the trials and tribulations that your client faced – you diarised most of this in updates which many in the media found very useful. Talk us through your thinking behind putting an update every single day.
TB: Farai’s family is not only people that are his family by birthright, or the people that are here in Zimbabwe. Farai’s family are an entire community of people that have touched his life and those that whose lives he has touched whether through schooling, through his work, through community, through partnering and so forth, so I found the enquiries that were being made of me once this matter started, far too overwhelming to be responded to individually and I decided that the most effective way to tell all these people what was happening to Farai was to do so by a daily update and it reduced the number of phone calls that I had to deal with, it reduced the number of emails that I had to deal with.
It was just a practical solution to serve the needs of a much larger community of people that were concerned about Farai. All I did was, I kept it as factual as was possible and where it was my opinion, it was clear that I was expressing my opinion on events that I had seen on the ground.
LG: Now quite clearly the State media were not amused and in fact certain columns were tasked to vilify you. How did you feel about some of the criticisms directed at you for diarising this whole case?
TB: I had two thoughts – I believed that certain of those characters if they’d have sung praises of me, they would have destroyed my reputation so when they criticised me I felt that they add to my credibility rather than subtract. The other aspect is I noted the threat that was inherent in those remarks and my attitude is that, save for God, I’m not afraid of anyone and I believe that the truth, the truth does not need a gun. And the work that we need to do I think continues, irrespective of the loyalists who praise what we truly believe to be wrong.
LG: Now when Farai was released on Monday, we haven’t had the chance yet to talk to him but we intend to do so in the coming days – what was the first thing he said to you? How was he feeling about the whole experience?
TB: He was most thankful to the defence team for standing with him because we did this work for no expectation of pay. We just did it because there was a human rights activist in danger and a human rights organisation under persecution and we could not call ourselves lawyers if we had stood by and done nothing, so he was thankful about that. But he was also most thankful over the support that the community of his friends and family and colleagues had given throughout and he may not be able to thank all of them personally but he was a truly happy and grateful man.
LG: Now what about his condition because there were worries about his medical condition throughout this long period of incarceration, how is he recovering now?
TB: He, I think, the joy of being free covered for whatever ailments still remain with him. Yesterday he went to see his doctor for review, he still has problems with the throat but the stomach problems are now gone and when an opportunity arises, we expect that the next time that he is able to go to Harare, he will go through a thorough medical just to make sure that his recovery’s on course but he is extremely elated and his family were so delighted. They had stood by him all this time and never lost hope that they would see him free. Of course people are anxious, they don’t know if their desire to persecute him has now subsided or if something else might be cooked and he will be running again.
LG: Away from the legal nitty gritties in the case, what do you make of what this whole case was all about?
TB: I think what this case says to, what I think this case says to those that have not been visited is that the work that we do relative to human rights, there is a price you will pay and that it is quite easy if the world keeps quiet and civic society keeps quiet, it’s easy to destroy NGOs either by attacking their executive leadership or their political leadership or by attacking the organisation itself physically so it sends a very chilling effect that if you criticise the authorities in our unjust law, there is sufficient basis for destroying you or destroying the work that you do.
So I do hope that lessons are being learnt and drawn from Farai’s experience relative to security of persons that work in organisations, security of information that those organisations are working on and security mainstreaming in all that NGOs do because security has tended to be taken for granted and even most funding partners don’t seem to take security as a major issue but I think Farai’s case is a lesson.
LG: And my final question for you Mr Bere – this case clearly was all about the diamond industry in the country – what would you recommend as the way forward because there is heated debate over whether to class Zimbabwe’s diamonds as blood diamonds, conflict diamonds, whether they should be allowed to be exported – what have you drawn from this case? What would you as somebody who works in both civil society and in the legal fraternity recommend as a way forward?
TB: My belief is that if a diamond concession is given to a private company the military authorities should not be used as a private security company because the military authorities survive at the expense of the public fiscus, so that’s my first view.
My second view is that I believe that any diamond mining operation ought to be compliant with the international human rights standard and ought never be the reason for the shedding of any blood or the misery of any individual or the unjust treatment of any community and you only do ensure these things by doing any operation of this nature in a transparent fashion but if people are prevented from going to Chiadzwa, including parliament being prevented from visiting Chiadzwa, if everything that is happening there is opaque and if lawyers end up representing people that have been beaten by dogs in Chiadzwa, what person in the international community would be proud to wear a diamond of that nature?
That is I think the take that I have. I do believe that something ought to be done to ensure that the community that is affected by this mining operation, have their rights respected to ensure that the people of this country are the ones who benefit from the mining of those diamonds, not individuals that are given concessions for some transactions that are not clear and open, so transparency is the first thing and respect for human rights is inseparable from the cleanliness of the diamonds that might come out of Chiadzwa.
I come from Manicaland and I am shocked that communities’ lives can be destroyed and the world can think that there’s nothing wrong with that.
LG: That’s Mr Tinoziva Bere, one of the lawyers that represented human rights activist Farai Maguwu. Mr Bere thank you so much for joining us on Behind the Headlines.
TB: It was my pleasure.
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