Hands off Beatrice Mtetwa! Southern Africa Women Human Rights Defenders
The Southern Africa Women Human Rights Defenders Network (SAWHRDN) has today called on the authorities in Zimbabwe to immediately stop persecuting Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa and desist from using threats of contempt of court and disbarment to suppress freedom of expression and her rights as a lawyer to represent her clients without any impediment from the state. The SAWHRDN also called on the Law Society of Zimbabwe to protect Beatrice Mtetwa from the unlawful interference by the Zimbabwe authorities with her rights as a lawyer.
DITSHWANELO – The Botswana Centre for Human Rights
“The blatant attacks on the rights, not only of those who openly challenge State violations but those who represent them, mark a disturbing trend under the Mnangagwa regime. The courage and resilience of Beatrice Mtetwa cannot be doused by the recent State attempts to silence her persistent demands for justice for all”
“What is happening to Beatrice Mtetwa is totally wrong and deplorable. Lawyers should be able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference,”Mary Pais Da Silva the SAHRDN Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor.
On 18 August 2020, Magistrate Ngoni Nduna issued an order “disqualifying” and barring Beatrice from continuing to represent her client Hopewell Chin’ono in his case. The aggravating concern is that the decision to stop Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her client is not just an attack on Beatrice Mtetwa but also a violation of the right to fair trial for Hopewell Chin’ono. The case was at a critical stage where Hopewell was applying for bail in relation to charges brought against him for investigating and publishing articles on systemic corruption in Zimbabwe including exposing the improper tender for procurement of COVID-19 personal protection equipment resulting in the loss of millions of dollars of public funds.
The gripe of the State in applying for Beatrice’s removal from the case emanated from Facebook posts made on a page dedicated to profiling her and her work in the human rights arena, which posts were improperly attributed to her personally by the State. The court not only disbarred Beatrice from the case, but also advised the Prosecutor General to consider instituting contempt of court proceedings against her, thus overstretching itself, and exceeding the relief that had been sought by the State in its unfortunate application for her removal.
The right to a fair hearing is enshrined in Section 69 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and in particular, the right to legal representation by a lawyer of his choice is provided for in Section 69 (4). We also remind the Zimbabwean government of its obligations on guaranteeing the right to freedom of expression under international law and the Constitution of Zimbabwe; Section 61 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees the freedom of expression. The right to fair trial is also enshrined in international instruments that Zimbabwe has signed and ratified such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
The blatant attacks on the rights, not only of those who openly challenge State violations, but those who represent them, mark a disturbing trend under the Mnangagwa regime.
“Beatrice Mtetwa is a regionally and internationally recognised lawyer and woman human rights defender who is known for her fearlessness and dedication to tenaciously use the law to protect the rights of others while placing herself in the firing line,” Da Silva continued. “She serves as a mentor, role-model and inspiration to many young lawyers and WHRDs and the SAWHRDN is concerned that the way she has been targeted has a chilling effect on many lawyers who may have been thinking of practicing human rights law”.added Da Silva
The SAWHRDN therefore calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to.
- Stop persecuting Women Human Rights Defenders and Lawyers.
- Stop identifying lawyers with their clients as a result of discharging their functions.
- Guarantee that Beatrice Mtetwa is able to perform all of her professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.
- Respect the Constitution and guarantee the freedom of expression.
- To desist from using threats of contempt of court and disbarment to suppress freedom of expression and the right to legal representation.
- Respect the Constitution and International Instruments on the rights of a person to a fair trial and access to justice that guarantees a person the right to legal representation of their choice.
For more information please contact or Mary Pais Da Silva our Gender and Social Inclusion Advisor at firstname.lastname@example.org or +268 7603 0076.