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Prosecution and disqualification of Beatrice Mtetwa in Zimbabwe

TrialWatcha Clooney Foundation for Justice (CFJ) initiative – and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) have been monitoring criminal proceedings against investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono in Zimbabwe. Beatrice Mtetwa (pictured) had been serving as lead defense counsel in the case.Prosecution and disqualification of Beatrice Mtetwa in Zimbabwe

On August 18, the Harare Magistrates Court disqualified Ms Mtetwa from the case and ordered the Zimbabwean Prosecutor-General to consider instituting legal proceedings against Ms Mtetwa for contempt of court. The court’s decision was ostensibly predicated on posts on a Facebook page entitled ‘Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law’ that criticized the proceedings against Mr Chin’ono.

CFJ and IBAHRI call on the Magistrates Court to revoke its decision, or for the decision against Ms Mtetwa to be reversed on appeal, so that she may continue, without impediment, to represent Mr Chin’ono.

‘Zimbabwean authorities must allow lawyers do their jobs, rather than trying to gag them. Those facing prosecution in Zimbabwe, including journalists and peaceful protesters, are entitled to effective representation,’ said Amal Clooney, Co-President of the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

The posts at issue include one that said ‘[w]here is the outrage from the International Community that Hopewell Chin’ono is being held as a political prisoner?’ The court asserted that this ‘scandalise[d] the court’ and demonstrated that Ms Mtetwa ‘failed the test for impartiality and detachment required of [a] practitioner of law’.

Ms Mtetwa denies authoring the posts and states that she is not responsible for the Facebook page where they appeared, which is run by Lorie Conway, a filmmaker who made a documentary about Ms Mtetwa.

IBAHRI Director Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, commented: ‘The right of lawyers to undertake their professional duties without hindrance, harassment or improper interference is enshrined in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. The treatment of Ms Mtetwa is entirely unjustified and the decision to bar her from representing Mr Chin’ono should be revoked with immediate effect.’

Principle 16 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states that governments must ensure that lawyers ‘are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference…[and] shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accord.’ Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Committee has made clear that state authorities ‘should not prohibit criticism of institutions‘, and lawyers must be able to do their jobs without hindrance.

The Magistrates Court’s decision comes amidst a crackdown on journalists and activists in Zimbabwe. According to Amnesty International, there has been The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations , it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world’s bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

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