- Andrew Makoni, one of Zimbabwe's most prominent
human rights lawyers, has fled to South Africa after receiving several
credible threats that Zimbabwean security officials have been instructed
to kill him, according to the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC).
Several other high-profile human rights lawyers also said to be targeted.
Makoni's sources indicate that the strategy is to
eliminate a prominent human rights lawyer to deter others from defending
victims of the escalating political violence. He received information
that a special team of security agents had been assigned to the police
station nearest his home in order to execute the assassination.
Activists say Zimbabwe may be facing an exodus of human
rights lawyers like Makoni because of a crackdown by President Robert
Rights lawyer Andrew Makoni hopes he is safe now as he sits in his new
office here, but he remains shaken after packing up and leaving Zimbabwe
recently out of fears he would be killed for his work.
"My departure was so sudden I had to leave my family behind,"
said Makoni, who has represented Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan
Tsvangirai. "They will be joining me once their visas are
The last couple months have been especially perilous, the activists said,
with Mugabe's 28-year reign over the country in jeopardy ahead of a June
27 presidential run-off.
Makoni represented Tsvangirai, who faces Mugabe in the
upcoming vote, when the opposition leader was beaten up and arrested in
March last year. The lawyer said working in Zimbabwe had become almost
"If you represent a political or human rights abuse case you are
automatically associated with the cause of your client and subjected to
intimidation and arrest," he said.
Makoni claimed he fled after security forces assigned to a police station
near his home in Harare hatched a plan to kill him.
"Areas outside Harare like Mutoko, Murewa and Guruve are notorious
for politically-motivated tortures, disappearances and killings, and
lawyers are often ambushed when they visit these areas," he said.
This is not the first time that Zimbabwean human rights lawyers are the
target of these types of threats. In March 2007, Makoni and his law
partner, Alec Muchadehama, acting for political activists tortured in
detention, were themselves unlawfully detained. Several of the lawyers,
including Beatrice Mtetwa, who protested against this unlawful detention
were forced into police vehicles and driven to a secluded area where they
were beaten. In 2006, lawyers at ZLHR, including its then head, Arnold
Tsunga, were subject to death
The threats are cause for concern considering the orchestrated violence
in the wake of the March elections and specifically the murders in the
past two weeks of at least four of Mr Makoni's clients: Better Chokururama,
Godfrey Kauzani, Cain Nyere and Shepherd Jani.
Lawyers have been routinely threatened or arrested, testing even the most
hardened among them, they said.
"State institutions are being used to carry out atrocities against
innocent civilians and those defending them," said Beatrice Mthetwa,
president of the Zimbabwe Law Society.
Last year, Makoni and his partner Alec Muchadehama made headlines when
they were detained after trying to obtain bail for members of the
They were charged with obstruction of justice and later released on bail
following an uproar by rights lawyers and organisations.
In the last two weeks, four of Makoni's clients who were members of the
opposition party were mysteriously killed, he said.
He claimed the situation was so bad that the number of human rights
lawyers throughout the country had dropped to about 10.
Irene Petras, director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said only a
handful of the bravest lawyers were willing to take on the government.
"We are not letting the biased and volatile political climate
undermine our work," said Petras.
The Johannesburg-based Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) said
Makoni's flight was likely to be followed by others.
The organisation in recent months spearheaded a Durban court bid to
prevent a Chinese ship from offloading its cargo of arms intended for
SALC director Nicole Fritz said it is a deeply troubling sign of the
situation in Zimbabwe when the best and most courageous human rights
lawyers are targeted and forced to flee.
"South Africa and regional leaders need to put human rights monitors
on the ground now because the Zimbabwean authorities who refuse to
relinquish power cannot be trusted to secure the lives -- let alone the
interests -- of their citizens," said Fritz.
Lawyers in Zimbabwe say working conditions have been deteriorating for
several years, but the situation has worsened over the past couple
"These days being a lawyer means you are also an MDC member,"
Mthethwa of the Zimbabwe Law Society said, referring to the Movement for
Democratic Change opposition party.
"Perpetrators often get off the hook as incidents of abuse go
unreported. Even if they are reported nothing much gets done about it."