Zimbabwe court grants bail to rights activist investigating conflict diamonds

[JURIST] A Zimbabwean court on Monday granted bail to human rights activist Farai Maguwu, who was being held for allegedly supplying false information about Zimbabwe's controversial diamond mining practices to the international diamond control body the Kimberley Process (KP) [official website]. In granting the bail request, Judge Mawadze Gurainesu rejected the prosecution's argument [AP report] that Maguwu would interfere with the investigation by contacting witnesses. Maguwu's release comes after a statement released Friday by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website], currently part of the government of President Robert Mugabe [PBS profile; JURIST news archive] in a power-sharing agreement, which called Maguwu's detention [press release] a "major blemish on the rule of law and the reputation of the inclusive government." The statement went on to call for greater transparency in the activities of the government at the Marange diamond fields, where Maguwu alleged human rights abuses by Mugabe's Zanu-PF shortly before his arrest. Monday's hearing was Maguwu's third bail hearing after his first two were denied. In denying the second bail request [JURIST report], Judge Chinembiri Bhunu of the Harare High Court [GlobaLex backgrounder] cited the severity of the crimes, which he characterized as borderline treason. According to Maguwu's lawyer, he has been in declining health [VOA report] due to the temperature of his cell, which has caused him to develop throat and chest infections.

Maguwu was arrested [JURIST report] in early June. He faces charges of false information on killings, torture and the theft of state security documents, in violation of § 31 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act [text, PDF]. An investigation was launched after he allegedly leaked to the KP a document compiled by the police [SW Radio Africa report] for the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a military-run security agency that was thought to be defunct. If convicted, Maguwu could face 20 years imprisonment. The ban on Zimbabwean diamonds is expected to be the focus of the upcoming KP meeting after last month's meeting failed to reach a consensus [AFP report] on the matter. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has urged the body to remove Zimbabwe [JURIST report] from its membership. According to HRW, human rights abuses by the Zimbabwean government have persisted since the discovery of diamonds in the Marange fields. Civil society groups such as Global Witness, Partnership Africa Canada [advocacy websites] and Green Advocates, have also called for the suspension of Zimbabwe's international diamond trade due to the human rights violations [Telegraph report] allegedly committed by the Zimbabwean army against civilians and illegal workers in the Marange diamond fields.

 

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