PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has been called to order by the Chief Justice after, critics maintain, trying to “intimidate the judiciary” in the court action by former lieutenant Didymus Mutasa regarding the ruling Zanu PF party’s December 2014 congress.
In a stinging statement that is clearly aimed at the president, among others, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku warned the public against making inappropriate statements on matters under the consideration of the courts.
“The Chief Justice notes with concern the proliferation in the public media of inappropriate comments on matters pending before the courts, contrary to the time honoured and internationally accepted practice of refraining from publicly commenting on matters that are sub-judice,” Chidyausiku said Tuesday.
“The chief Justice accepts that trials of court cases of a public interest nature may be reported and commented on.
“However, such reports and comments must not seek to, or be perceived as seeking to prejudice, influence or interfere with the due administration of justice or fair trials of the matters reported on.”
The Chief Justice called upon “all to refrain from publicly commenting on matters under consideration by the courts in violation of the sub judice rule”.
He insisted that the judiciary would not be influenced by the public comments when dealing with cases brought before the courts.
“Notwithstanding the comments and reports on pending matters, the Chief Justice reassures all that matters before the courts are and will be determined in accordance with nothing other than the law,” he said
In an interview with the state broadcaster to mark his 91st birthday, Mugabe warned Mutasa against taking the dispute to the courts saying “no magistrate will listen to that nonsense.”
But Mutasa defied the veteran leader.
Supported by former Zanu PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo, Mutasa approached the High Court arguing that the December congress was unconstitutional and urging the court to declare its decisions illegal.
An incensed Mugabe then told a gathering in vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Midlands homeland that he would wait to see “which magistrate or judge will entertain the litigation”.
His remarks were roundly condemned by the opposition and pro-democracy groups who argued they were meant to intimidate the judiciary before the legal showdown.
Mugabe’s handlers, among them information minister Jonathan Moyo, leaped to the nonagenarian’s defence, arguing the president has a right to comment on the case.
Mutasa, former vice president Joice Mujuru and Gumbo lead a cast of Zanu PF stalwarts which includes almost 20 cabinet ministers who lost their powerful positions in the aftermath of the acrimonious congress.