A prominent human rights activist and her co-accused cannot be tried — now or in the future — on terror charges because they were beaten and tortured in jail, Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled Monday.
Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku said the court was issuing a permanent stay of prosecution in the case of Jestina Mukoko and eight other defendants because their constitutional rights had been violated.
Such a ruling from judges appointed by longtime President Robert Mugabe could signal a new willingness on his part to meet demands for reform from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, his partner in the country's troubled unity government. But in a country that seems to lurch from promising to perilous from day to day, trends are hard to spot.
Innocent Gonese, a member of parliament from Tsvangirai's party, said the judgment could be "the beginning of good things to come, politically," but added that scores of other party activists remain jailed or face charges.
Richard Smith, a South Africa-based human rights activist, said the ruling could show an emerging streak of independence among judges known for taking orders from Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.