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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Zimbabwe police assault lawyers
Police
Riot police were waiting for the lawyers
Police in Zimbabwe have broken up a march by lawyers in the capital, Harare, beating up several of them.

"They asked us to lie on our stomachs and then they started assaulting us," the law society's president, Beatrice Mtetwa, told the BBC.

The lawyers were protesting about what they said was police harassment after two lawyers were arrested last week.

The men - who were subsequently freed on Monday - are representing opposition activists accused of detonating bombs.

In March, a prayer meeting in Harare attended by opposition leaders and activists was broken up by police, leaving two people dead.

Scores of activists, including Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai, were arrested and assaulted in police custody.

President Robert Mugabe has accused the opposition of "creating a state of anarchy".

Shouting

Ms Mtetwa said there was a large turnout in the town centre where many riot police had already assembled.

Beatrice Mtetwa  (Pic: Pioneerafrica)
A lot more lawyers were beaten up outside the High Court itself
Beatrice Mtetwa

"The [commanding] officer then arrived and told us that we must disperse: he'll count to three and if we don't disperse when he's finished three his officers were free to beat us up," she told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

Some of the lawyers then began walking towards the Ministry of Justice's offices, she said.

Lawyers could then be heard shouting as police bundled several of them into a truck.

"They physically forced us onto a truck drove about three or four kilometres and asked us to disembark... Four lawyers were assaulted," she said.

"A lot more lawyers were beaten up outside the High Court itself," she said.

Public demonstrations in Zimbabwe require police clearance and unauthorised gatherings are frequently broken up.

But Ms Mtetwa said that the march was legal.

"There is no law that says police must approve the march. It only says they have to be notified, and we have done that," she is quoted as saying before the demonstration.

Escalation

On Monday, the International Bar Association said the arrest of lawyers Andrew Makoni and Alec Muchadehama was "another example of the precarious situation in which human rights lawyers work in Zimbabwe".

Their detention was ruled illegal, but the police twice defied orders to free them - they are now out on bail.

"President Mugabe's government has escalated attacks on political dissenters in recent weeks," Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association said.

"And no effective international action is being taken to stop the flagrant violation of international law in that country."

Zimbabwe has the world's highest annual rate of inflation - 2,200% - and only one person in five is in full-time work.

Mr Mugabe blames the country's problems on a Western plot to remove him from power.




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