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Monday, February 8, 1999 Published at 09:38 GMT

World: Africa

Mugabe challenges Supreme Court

Mugabe fears a white conspiracy

President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe has stunned human rights activists by refusing to condemn the torture of journalists by the army, nor promising an investigation.

In a special address to the nation, Mr Mugabe challenged four supreme judges to resign after they asked him to comment on the illegal detention and alleged torture of two journalists.

In a letter to the president, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court said the rule of law had been brought into question by the journalists' arrests.

Mr Mugabe rebuked the court for attacking the presidency and said the judges should step down.

[ image: Civil rights protest after the detention of the journalists]
Civil rights protest after the detention of the journalists
BBC Harare Correspondent Joseph Winter says Mr Mugabe's remarks were far from the denial or promise of an investigation that many people were hoping for from the head of state.

In his speech on Saturday night, the president also castigated private media, human rights watchdogs and "some agents of Britain" for allegedly undermining the loyalty of institutions like the army. Zimbabwe is a former British colony.

Coup plot

Mark Chavunduka, editor of the Standard newspaper, and reporter Ray Choto said they were tortured for two days by military police and Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) agents to try to make them reveal their sources for a 10 January report that 23 soldiers had planned a coup last December.

Doctors verified the two men's allegations that they had been tortured.

Before a magistrates' court freed them on bail, the military repeatedly ignored High Court orders to release them.

The Standard's Managing Director Clive Wilson was arrested on 22 January, but released two days later after the state prosecutor said there was no substantive case against him.

When the Supreme Court judges wrote to Mr Mugabe for clarification of the torture, Mr Mugabe replied: "In accordance with our constitution and the principle of the separation of powers, the judiciary has no right to give instructions to the President on any matter as the four judges have purported to do."

"In those circumstances, the one and only honourable course open to them is quitting the Bench and joining the political forum where their political views would not offend our constitution and the principles of justice we should uphold," he said.

White conspiracy

Mr Mugabe also accused some white Zimbabweans, naming two newspaper publishers and two human rights activists, of having an "evil" agenda to destabilise the country's black government.

President Mugabe led Zimbabwe's struggle against the country's former white-minority regime, which ceded power in 1980.

But his government faces growing criticism amid a painful economic crisis and the country's participation in the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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