Zimbabwe-based human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, is being unduly interfered with and prevented from carrying out her professional duty as a lawyer, the Bar Council and the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) in London said in a statement this week.
This was after a Zimbabwean magistrate ruled that the lawyer was in contempt of court and ordered her to stand down from representing the journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, who had reported on ministerial corruption on Twitter. Chin’ono has been in jail for more than three weeks.
In the statement the Bar Council and the BHRC said, “We urgently call upon Magistrate Ngoni Nduna – the ruling Magistrate in the case - to immediately revoke the judgment and we also urge the Zimbabwean authorities to ensure full compliance with their duties under the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
“In ordering Beatrice Mtetwa to stand down from representing her client, an investigative journalist who had reported on ministerial corruption, and calling upon the Prosecutor-General of Zimbabwe to consider investigating Beatrice Mtetwa for contempt of court, Magistrate Nduna is unduly interfering with and preventing Beatrice Mtetwa from carrying out her professional duty as a lawyer.”
The statement went on to say that the Bar Council and BHRC took “very seriously any interference with the ordinary work of lawyers around the world” and were committed to speaking out in situations where lawyers were “arbitrarily prevented from carrying out their work and upholding the rule of law and access to justice”.
Mtetwa is known internationally for her defence of arrested journalists. In 2003 she won a court order preventing the deportation of the acclaimed international journalist and Zimbabwe specialist, Andrew Meldrum, from Zimbabwe. He was accused of “publishing a falsehood”. She also won acquittals for journalists from the Sunday Telegraph and managed to secure the release of a jailed New York Times journalist. These arrests were on charges of working without government accreditation.
Over the years she has been arrested, attacked and beaten by police several times. In an interview with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists she was quoted saying, “I always make sure that if, for instance, I'm called in the middle of the night to a scene that is potentially dangerous, that there are as many media practitioners as possible, particularly to record what will happen there. And in the glare of cameras I find that people don't want to do what they would want to do.”
Associated Press quoted Mtetwa saying after the ruling that it was meant to instil fear in human rights lawyers.
“The intention is to stop us defending a certain type of client … it means the right to legal representation has been severely curtailed and it has been curtailed by the courts.” She said she would appeal the ruling against her.
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