Commission to review claims against judge who ruled in favour of protests

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The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) will in two weeks’ time sit to review claims of corruption against Priscilla Chigumba, a High Court judge who recently ruled in favour of demonstrations against President Robert Mugabe and his government.

A Harare man only identified as Kanokanga wrote to the commission alleging that Chigumba had sent an agent to him asking for a $20,000 bribe so that she could throw in his favour a case in which he was involved.

The claim against Chigumba surfaced after she bravely ruled in favour of a consortium of political parties, churches and civil activists who in early September were seeking a reversal of a police ban on demonstrations in central Harare for two weeks.

Human rights defenders and political parties were quick to congratulate Chigumba for her judgment, which they said was rare in Zimbabwe where State arms are often accused of partisanship in favour of the ruling Zanu PF.

Before she made her ruling, Chigumba uttered words that could have unsettled Mugabe.

She said: “I wish to say…the judicial authority derives from the people of Zimbabwe and is vested in laws in terms of Section 162 of the Constitution.”

Mugabe, though, is the ultimate appointer of the judges who are seen as surviving on his whim.

Added Chigumba: “Independence, impartiality and effectiveness of the courts are central to the rule of law and democratic governance.”

Her remarks were not immediately directed at the ruling on whether or not the demonstrators must go ahead, and analysts inferred that she was referring to political tendencies to meddle with the judiciary.

Social media commentators pointed out that her statements could have come after external attempts to influence her ruling prior to the hearing.

Since July, citizens, churches and political parties have been staging demonstration against corruption, a collapsing economy, police brutality and lack of meaningful electoral reforms.

The police, however, in almost all the cases opposed the demonstrations, forcing the protesters to approach the High Court for reprieve.

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Critics maintain that the allegations against Chigumba are part of the State’s strategy to silence the judiciary.

President Mugabe has already received stinging criticism for publicly condemning judges who ruled in favour of the demonstrators.

He accused them of fomenting violence by giving them the nod to protest, citing previous cases in which the demonstrations turned violent.

However, the protests always started off peacefully until the police defied court orders not to interfere, heavily clamping down on the demonstrations with tear smoke, truncheons, water cannons and dogs.

The police have twice banned protests in central Harare, which had become the venue for most of the protests.

The first ban is the one that Chigumba overturned, while the same judicial institution has reserved judgment in the second one after Mugabe’s angry outburst.

Chigumba has already been interviewed for a higher post on the Supreme Court bench, and there are fears that the latest claim against her is meant to undermine her elevation while possibly seeking to have her removed from the bench altogether.

This is not the first time Mugabe has victimised the bench for being “politically incorrect”.

In the early 2000s, all the white judges on the bench were removed following the launch of the fast track land reform programme.

Mugabe publicly condemned the white judges for allegedly frustrating the programme.

Over the years, other judges like Benjamin Paradza have also been hounded out, after allegations were also made against him on perceived political grounds.

Former Attorney General, Sobhuza Gula Ndebele, was also removed from office after similar charges were made against him.

The recent High Court decision to reserve judgment over the second protests ban is seen as a move by the bench to avoid persecution by Mugabe, who seems to have been rattled by the protests ahead of the 2018 general elections

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