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Without independent judges, democracy dies

Jacob Zuma sits in the dock during a trial in 2018. Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

There is a plague of “would-be strongmen” popping up around the world who want to rule “unconstrained by the law”, says Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times. But the survival of democracy depends on an independent judiciary. Last week, Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s former president and a classic populist, was imprisoned for being in contempt of court. Zuma was “no exception” to the rule of law, said the chief justice who sentenced him. Similarly, Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the result of last year’s US election were thwarted by the very judges he had appointed to the Supreme Court.  

Yet in Russia, courts are willing to deliver “absurd verdicts” to toe the Kremlin line. And China’s campaign to crush rebellion in Hong Kong has swiftly turned on the independence of the territory’s legal system. Quashing legal dissent is a “crucial step” in achieving autocracy – that’s why legal “reforms” by the populist governments of Poland and Hungary are so ominous. Thousands of judges were sacked or jailed after the failed coup against Turkey’s Recep Erdogan in 2016. In India, an 88-year-old human rights activist was repeatedly been denied bail “after being implausibly accused of terrorism”. Unless South Africa’s example is followed, corruption and the abuse of power will go unchallenged.

Read the full article here (paywall).