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About turn after Tsvangirai acquittal

There was confusion when Justice Paddington Garwe acquitted Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai of treason.

Tsvangirai was accused of plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe.

His lawyers said that Garwe had done a good job in applying the law to the facts presented at trial but the United States embassy still questioned whether the acquittal was an assertion of judicial independence or was directed by the executive.

“Garwe has long been painted by many as under government control, but some who know him stressed to us that his ZANU-PF sympathies were constrained by his priority on judicial integrity,” the embassy said.

“Two earlier postponements of the verdict’s announcement suggested some wrangling over the verdict, but it was unclear whether they stemmed from disagreements between Garwe and two independent assessors who had to sign off on the judge’s assessment of the facts, or were the result of government pressure.”

The embassy said that whether the government directed the verdict or not, it was expected to exploit the acquittal as a vindication of the rule of law in Zimbabwe and as evidence of a level political playing field in the run-up to its March parliamentary elections.

 

Full cable:


Viewing cable 04HARARE1722, OPPOSITION LEADER ACQUITTED

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

04HARARE1722

2004-10-15 12:18

2011-08-30 01:44

SECRET//NOFORN

Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001722

 

SIPDIS

 

NOFORN

 

AF/S FOR DMOZENA AND BNEULING

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2014

TAGS: PGOV PHUM ZI MDC

SUBJECT: OPPOSITION LEADER ACQUITTED

 

REF: (A) HARARE 1571 (B) HARARE 1224 (C) HARARE 334

AND PREVIOUS

 

Classified By: Classified by Charge d’Affaires Paul Weisenfeld under Se

ction 1.5 b/d

 

1. (U) To a packed courtroom in the late morning of October

15, High Court Justice Paddington Garwe pronounced Movement

for Democratic Change President Morgan Tsvangirai not guilty

on a charge of treason. The verdict brings to conclusion a

trial that commenced more than a year ago in which the

Government alleged that Tsvangirai had plotted with a

Montreal-based consulting firm, Dickens and Madsen, to

assassinate President Mugabe. Tsvangirai left the stunned

courtroom immediately and returned to his residence with

party supporters. Presiding Justice Garwe’s 90 minute

recounting of the facts of the case stressed the dubiousness

of prosecution witnesses and the absence of evidence on key

components of the charge. He noted that there was some

evidence of “sinister” action on Tsvanagirai’s part, but

concluded it was insufficient to convict him of treason.

 

2. (SBU) Tsvangirai’s defense team told the Embassy that

Garwe had done a good job in applying the law to the facts

presented at trial. Tsvangirai still faces an additional

charge of treason stemming from his involvement in mass

action last year. A court date for that trial has not been

set and his lawyers would not predict how imminent it might

be, if it is set at all.

 

Celebration Suppressed Amid Relative Calm

—————————————–

 

3. (U) Within an hour after the verdict was announced, MDC

supporters began loudly celebrating in front of the party’s

headquarters in downtown Harare. Witnesses from the

Embassy’s Public Affairs Office, which is close to the party

headquarters, reported that armed police moved in quickly to

disperse the crowd; by early afternoon the area had returned

to ordinary business with reduced police presence. There

have been unsubstantiated reports of isolated incidents of

violence between police and apparently celebrating citizens

downtown. Otherwise, emboffs monitoring the streets of

Harare reported relative calm by early afternoon, with

ordinary business proceeding among a heavy police presence.

Police were joined by military at many of the roadblocks

along major traffic arteries as the day began. A military

jet made several low passes over the downtown area as court

proceedings commenced.

 

Uneven Access for Diplomats, Journalists

—————————————-

 

4. (SBU) American and other diplomats attempting to cover

the trial were initially turned away by police, including one

who threatened to use force to remove them. One policeman

shoved a German diplomat several times with his baton as the

diplomat was leaving. South African diplomats arriving after

Western diplomats were permitted access. Following

subsequent efforts by the Embassy through the Ministry of

Foreign Affairs and police contacts, poloff was granted

access to the courtroom, by which time most other diplomats

had left. Most journalists at the scene were denied entry,

including some who claimed to have gotten explicit advance

authorization by the police commissioner.

 

Comment

——-

 

5. (S/NF) COMMENT: Zimbabwe’s beleagured judiciary continues

to surprise its critics with rulings against the Government.

It is not clear whether this unexpected acquittal represents

an assertion of judicial independence or is the product of

executive direction. Garwe has long been painted by many as

under Government control, but some who know him stressed to

us that his ZANU-PF sympathies were constrained by his

priority on judicial integrity. Two earlier postponements of

the verdict’s announcement suggested some wrangling over the

verdict, but it was unclear whether they stemmed from

disagreements between Garwe and two independent assessors who

had to sign off on the judge’s assessment of the facts, or

were the result of government pressure. Separate RMAS

reporting indicates that senior security officials believed

right up to the day before the announcement that the verdict

was going to be found guilty. The unusual admission of some

foreign journalists into the country specifically for the

verdict announcment, including a CNN correspondent, evidences

GOZ interest in spinning the story to international audiences

but does not necessarily indicate advance knowledge by senior

GOZ circles. Whether the Government directed the verdict or

not, it can be expected to exploit the acquittal as a

vindication of the rule of law in Zimbabwe and as evidence of

a level political playing field in the run-up to its March

parliamentary elections.

WEISENFELD

 

(27 VIEWS)

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