THE Africa Judges and Jurists Forum (AJJF) has called on the Zimbabwean government to immediately stop victimising human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and blocking her from representing detained journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.
BY SILAS NKALA
AJJF — which boasts of membership drawn from South Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe coordinating and in collaboration with 65 non-governmental organisations and 66 individuals — said it was deeply concerned with Mtetwa’s disqualification from representing her client.
This was after Mtetwa was recently barred from representing Chin’ono by a Harare magistrate, who accused her of scandalising the courts and recommended that the firebrand lawyer be deregistered by the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
“The magistrates’ court also ordered the Prosecutor-General to consider instituting proceedings of contempt of court against Mtetwa. We strongly believe that even if a lawyer were to make the statements which Mtetwa is alleged to have made, such statements are protected under the right to freedom of expression,” read a statement released on Monday and signed by Justice Willy Mutunga, former Chief Justice of Kenya and current AJJF president and others.
AJJF noted that according to the United Nations principle 23 on the role of lawyers, lawyers are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly in that they shall have the right to take part in public discussions of matters concerning the law, administration of justice, promotion and protection of human rights.
“The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in section 81 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 People’s Rights,” AJJF said.
The jurists also expressed concern over the continued violation of rights by Zimbabwe, especially to fair trial, arguing that the disqualification of Mtetwa was undermining the accused person’s right to legal representation.
“Subsequently, this undermines the accused person’s right to a fair trial,” reads the statement.
They argued that the court verdict on Mtetwa did not only undermine her right to practice, but had a chilling effect on the exercise of many 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.
They called on the Zimbabwe government to respect Mtetwa’s rights to freedom of expression and to practice her profession, the right of the accused persons to fair trial including legal representation by a lawyer of their choice.
The jurists reiterated that there can be no justice without freedom.