The Leader Column

In the UK, lawyers and journalists regularly top polls of the most loathed professions. Lawyers tend to feel aggrieved by this, whereas we journalists masochistically revel in our villainous status. In any case, it's an entirely luxurious position to be in, given that being either in this country does not require a great amount of political courage.
It's different in Zimbabwe, where lawyers and journalists really are heroes. Both are in the frontline of opposition to the Mugabe government, with predictable results. Mugabe's attacks on press freedom and the rule of law have been well documented; just last year Chief Justice Gubbay was forced into retirement as the government tried to pack the bench with its own supporters. Justice Ahmed Ebrahim resigned without explanation from the Supreme Court in March this year just days after ruling against an election law which would have given sweeping powers to government polling officials. Mugabe later used presidential powers to overrule Ebrahim's judgment.
As we report on page four, the president and executive secretary of the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) were arrested and detained last week under the new Public Order and Security Act, a piece of legislation that was brought in as part of a concerted effort to muzzle the judiciary, the press and now lawyers. The officials arrested, Sternford Moyo and Wilbert Mapombere, are brave men who have consistently spoken out against the erosion of the independent judiciary. They were held for 48 hours without food or access to lawyers. They have now been remanded on bail.
To its credit, the International Bar Association (IBA) has been vigorous in its protests. Those of us who thought the only thing it did was organise huge conferences in sunny locations have been pleasantly surprised at the newly aggressive stance taken by its Human Rights Institute. It organised a fact-finding delegation of judges and lawyers last year to investigate the disintegration of the rule of law in Zimbabwe – a move which kept the issue at the top of the political agenda in the West. It has also been giving the LSZ much-needed practical and administrative help, particularly on a continuing legal education programme for Zimbabwean lawyers on human rights issues and advocacy.
We will be keeping you informed of any developments. Meanwhile, in keeping with the spirit of Pro Bono Week, if you feel you can offer something, then some of you might want to contact the IBA Human Rights Institute direct.