HARARE, Zimbabwe — A Zimbabwean High Court judge has ruled that the military action leading to Robert Mugabe’s resignation was legal, a key decision as the military has sought to show that its actions were not a coup.
High Court Judge George Chiweshe on Friday ruled that the military’s actions “in intervening to stop the takeover” of Mugabe’s constitutional functions “by those around him are constitutionally and lawful.”
The military stepped in almost two weeks ago after Mugabe’s firing of deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa amid fears that Mugabe’s unpopular wife was positioning herself to take power.
The judge said the military’s actions ensured that non-elected individuals do not exercise executive functions, an apparent reference to then-first lady Grace Mugabe.
Separately, the judge said Mugabe’s firing of Mnangagwa as vice-president was illegal. Mnangagwa was sworn in as president on Friday in a whirlwind reversal of fortunes.
The judge’s decisions were quickly criticized both by legal and rights experts and by close allies of Mugabe and his wife.
“If these breathtaking High Court Orders granted in Harare yesterday represent what is being peddled as a ‘new path,’ then please pray for Zimbabwe,” tweeted minister of higher education Jonathan Moyo, the most vocal of the Mugabes’ allies.
The southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga,called the rulings “incredible” and said on Twitter: “Strange, captured judiciary?”
Zimbabwe’s military sent tanks into the streets overnight on Nov. 14, taking control of the state broadcaster and announcing that Robert Mugabe had been put under house arrest. It also said it was pursuing “criminals” close to Mugabe who were accused of harming the country’s economy.
The military’s move led the ruling party to turn against Mugabe, launching impeachment proceedings before Mugabe on Tuesday announced his resignation, while tens of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets in a military-backed demonstration urging Mugabe to step aside.
A number of Cabinet ministers have not been seen publicly since the military swept in, while rights activists have begun sharing worrying details of assaults and raids on their homes amid concerns about possible retaliation.
Also Saturday, Finance Minister Ignatious Chombo was to appear in court after accusations of corrupt land deals dating back to his time as minister in charge of local government, his lawyer Lovemore Madhuku told The Associated Press.
Chombo was assaulted after the military moved in, the lawyer said. He was detained by the military but now is in police custody.
Charges against the minister were read out Thursday while he lay in bed at a government-run hospital, the lawyer said.