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Furore in Zimbabwe over ruling barring leading human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from representing journalist Hopewell Chin’ono

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There is anger in Zimbabwe over a magistrates’ court ruling barring leading human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from representing journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

The Magistrates’ Court also ordered the Prosecutor General to consider instituting proceedings of contempt of court against Beatrice Mtetwa.

Mtetwa, a leading human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe, is a longstanding friend of the Johannesburg Bar. She is highly regarded all over the world for her determined and ethical commitment to the protection of the rule of law.

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Journalist Chin’ono is currently being tried on charges of inciting public violence, after he exposed a $60 million Personal Protective Equipment procurement scandal in June.

The exposure led to the arrest and dismissal of Zimbabwe’s Minister of Health, Obadiah Moyo.

Hopewell Chin’ono was himself subsequently arrested and charged with incitement to commit public violence, having called for peaceful, socially distanced protests in small groups against the Government. Over 60 opposition politicians, activists and journalists and a number of lawyers were also arrested and charged on a variety of vague charges.

On August 19, 2020, Magistrate Ngoni Nduna of the Harare Magistrates’ Court granted an order “disqualifying” Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her client Hopewell Chin’ono in his bail rehearing and directed the Prosecutor General to consider prosecuting her for contempt of court.

A careful reading of the Magistrate’s ruling suggests that this was an instance of judicial overreach.

Magistrate Nduna refused Hopewell Chin’ono earlier application for bail on July 24, 2020 and an appeal against that decision was unsuccessful.

In a joint statement on Monday, dozens of non-governmental organizations and individuals around the world said they were “gravely concerned” by the decision of the Zimbabwean Magistrates’ Court to disqualify Beatrice Mtetwa from continuing as defense legal counsel for for journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.

The Magistrates Court’s decision was made at the instance of an application by the state for Beatrice Mtetwa’s disqualification on grounds that she had made certain public statements which the state perceived as showing that she was no longer an objective officer of the court in the legal matter.

It is alleged that Beatrice Mtetwa authored and or authorized the publication of the following statement on a Facebook page titled “Beatrice Mtetwa and The Rule of Law”

“Where is the outrage from the international community that Hopewell Chin’ono is being held as a political prisoner? His life is in serious peril. Raise awareness about his unlawful imprisonment. Do not let him to be forgotten. You or someone you love could be the next one abducted from your home and put in leg irons.”

The human rights organizations said Beatrice Mtetwa had testified before the court that she has no control over the said Facebook page and therefore, did not author or authorize the said publications. She is not listed as an administrator of the said Facebook page.

“We strongly believe that, even if a lawyer were to make the statements which Beatrice Mtetwa is alleged to have made, such statements are protected under the right to freedom of expression.

“This right is guaranteed in section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, article 19 (2) of the International Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter),” the organizations and individuals added. 

JOINT STATEMENT CONCERNING THE JUDGMENT AGAINST LAWYER BEATRICE MTETWA

August 24, 2020

  1. We, the undersigned non-governmental organizations and individuals note with grave concern the decision of the Zimbabwean Magistrates’ Court to disqualify Beatrice Mtetwa from continuing as defence legal counsel for journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who is currently being tried on charges of inciting public violence. The Magistrates’ Court also ordered the Prosecutor General to consider instituting proceedings of contempt of court against Beatrice Mtetwa.
  2. The Magistrates Court’s decision was made at the instance of an application by the state for Beatrice Mtetwa’s disqualification on grounds that she had made certain public statements which the state perceived as showing that she was no longer an objective officer of the court in the legal matter. It is alleged that Beatrice Mtetwa authored and or authorized the publication of the following statement on a Facebook page titled “Beatrice Mtetwa and The Rule of Law”:

“Where is the outrage from the international community that Hopewell Chin’ono is being held as a political prisoner? His life is in serious peril. Raise awareness about his unlawful imprisonment. Do not let him to be forgotten. You or someone you love could be the next one abducted from your home and put in leg irons.”

  1. We note that Beatrice Mtetwa testified before the court that she has no control over the said Facebook page and therefore, did not author or authorize the said publications. She is not listed as an administrator of the said Facebook page.
  2. We strongly believe that, even if a lawyer were to make the statements which Beatrice Mtetwa is alleged to have made, such statements are protected under the right to freedom of expression. This right is guaranteed in section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, article 19 (2) of the International Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter). 
  3. Further, in terms of Principle 23 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (UN Basic Principles):

“Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights…..”

  1. By disqualifying Beatrice Mtetwa, the court has undermined the accused person (Hopewell Chin’ono)’s right to legal representation, which is guaranteed in section 70(1) (d) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, article 14(3) (b) of the ICCPR and article 7(1) of the African Charter. Subsequently, this undermines the accused person’s right to a fair trial.
  2. We therefore express our concern over this judgment as it undermines not just Beatrice Mtetwa’s right to practice law but it has a chilling effect on the exercise of many other associated rights including the right to freedom of expression for lawyers, the accused persons’ right to legal representation as well as the right to fair trial. Ordinarily, courts must be the shield that protects these rights rather than being the sword that destroys fundamental rights. 
  3. We call on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of everyone, including Beatrice Mtetwa’s right to freedom of expression and to practice her profession, the right of the accused to fair trial including legal representation. There is no justice without freedom and the rule of law.

Organisations

Africa Centre for Development Alternatives

Africa Judges and Jurists Forum

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies

African Defenders (Pan African Human Rights Defenders Network)

African Men for Sexual Health and Rights

African Women’s Development and Communication Network

Amalgamated Rural Teacher’s Union of Zimbabwe

Amnesty International

Cameroon Women’s Peace Movement

Centre for Democracy and Development (Mozambique)

Centre for Applied Legal Studies

Centre for Human Rights, Education, and Advice and Assistance

Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

Chapter One Foundation

CIDH-Network of Independent Commission for Human Rights

Coalition of African Lesbians

Consortium of Ethiopian Human Rights Organizations

Defenders Coalition Kenya

Democratic Governance and Rights Unit

DITSHWANELO-Botswana Centre for Human Rights

Ethiopian Human Rights Defenders Coalition

Expression Now Human Rights Initiative

Freedom House

Gender Centre for Empowering Development

Girl Child Network (Uganda)

House of Justice

Human Right Concern

Human Rights Defenders Coalition

Human Rights Defenders Network – SL

Human Rights Enforcement Foundation (Uganda)

Human Rights Institute of South Africa

Human Rights Watch

International Commission of Jurists (Kenya Section)

International Refugee Rights Initiative

Ithemba For Girls Trust

Justice Access Point (Uganda)

Kenya Human Rights Commission

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana

National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Uganda

Network of Independent Commission for Human Rights in Northern Africa

Open Bar Initiative-Nigeria

Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa

Pan African Lawyers Union

Panos Institute Southern Africa

Réseau Ouest Africain des défenseurs des droits humains (ROADDH)

SADC Lawyers Association

Samburu Women Trust

Shalupe Foundation

Sonke Gender Justice

South Sudan Human Rights Defenders Network

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

Southern Africa Litigation Centre

Southern Africa Network Against Corruption

Success Capital Organisation

Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition

West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

Zambia Council for Social Development

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

Zimbabwe National Students Union

Individuals

Achieng Akena

Alice Mogwe

Angela Quintal

Arnold Tsunga

Chidi Anselm Odinkalu

Chikosa Banda

Colleta Pamba

Dewa Mavhinga

Donald Deya

Dr. Justice Alfred Mavedzenge

Dr. Musa Kika

Dr. Rose Nakayi

Evelyn Chijarira

Gloria Mabeiam Ballason

Grace Kumwenda

Gregory Chifire

Hardlife Mudzingwa

Justice Willy Mutunga, Former Chief Justice of Kenya 2013-2017

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh

Kelvin Kabaya

Kwemara Kafuuzi

Leah Mitaba

Makanatsa Makonese

Mamukeleni Tsunga

Martin Okumu-Masiga

Mooya L. Nyaundi

Muchengeti Hwacha

Muleya Mwananyanda

Muzi Masuku

Norman Tjombe

Otto Saki

Professor Danwood Chirwa

Professor Hugh Corder

Professor Issa Shivji

Professor Michelo Hansungule

Professor Reg Austin

Professor Adriano Alfredo Nuvunga

Robson Ruhanya

Tamuka Brian Kagoro

Thulani Mswelanto

Tiseke Kasambala

Vanja Karth

Victor Mhango

Vusumuzi Sifile

Washington Katema

Wesley Mwafulirwa

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Simon Ateba
Simon Ateba
Based in Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America, Simon leads a brilliant team of reporters, freelance journalists, analysts, researchers and contributors from around the world to run TODAY NEWS AFRICA as editor-in-chief. Simon Ateba's journalistic experience spans over 10 years and covers many beats, including business and investment, information technology, politics, diplomacy, human rights, science reporting and much more. Write him: simonateba@todaynewsafrica.com

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