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.
Viewing cable 04HARARE1722, OPPOSITION LEADER ACQUITTED
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
AF/S FOR DMOZENA AND BNEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C. COURVILLE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/15/2014
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION LEADER ACQUITTED
REF: (A) HARARE 1571 (B) HARARE 1224 (C) HARARE 334
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
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.
¶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