THE Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) says it will face down threats from government, and a court case that could strip it of regulatory powers in a case analysts say has wider implications for other perceived opponents of the administration.
Last week, government accused the LSZ of hobnobbing with the West, and pursuing a sinister agenda, but the lawyers say they were being targeted for being strong critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government over worsening human rights abuses.
Additionally, a lawyer, Joshua Chirambwe, made a High Court application challenging a law that made the body the sole regulator of the legal profession.
The Harare lawyer is seeking a declaratory relief, arguing that sections 58, 64 and 65(1) to (5) of the Legal Practitioners Act were invalid and in violation of the Constitution.
But LSZ president Wellington Magaya last Friday told the Walter Kamba Rule of Law Lecture and awards ceremony in Harare that the legal fraternity was under siege in the country.
Respected South African professor of law and former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, was the keynote speaker at the event.
“The very foundations of our existence as a profession are being tested, and we are certain we will overcome. To those who are after our right to self-regulate, let them be reminded that we will not allow anyone to take this away from us without a good fight,” Magaya said.
“They are labouring under the misconception that if self-regulation is taken away from us, we will stop to speak out about human rights and the rule of law. We will continue to do that, in whatever form or organisation that we can.”
Zimbabwe has been ranked poorly in terms of human rights issues, with the Mnangagwa administration accused of serious violations in silencing its critics.
The latest research report by the ZLHR highlights the current situation of lawyers in Zimbabwe. The report outlines the political situation in Zimbabwe, as well the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally the report demonstrates how lawyers in Zimbabwe have been barred from representing their clients, have become subjects to arbitrary arrests, and have even been attacked for practicing their profession. Read on for more on this.
Lawyers play a vital role in upholding the rule of law and the protection of human rights, including the rights to effective remedy, due process of law, fair trial and the right of freedom from torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Their work is indispensable for public confidence in the administration of justice, and to ensure effective justice for all. All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to provide legal services. It is the responsibility of lawyers to protect and establish the rights of citizens from whatever manner in which those rights may be threatened and defend them in all stages of legal proceedings. To fulfil their professional duties effectively, lawyers should be able to practice law independently in accordance with recognized laws, standards and ethics. They should be free from improper interferences, any fear of reprisals, or unreasonable restrictions.
Attacks against lawyers
The beginning of 2020 saw an increase in the number of arrests of Zimbabwean lawyers, and in the restrictions placed on lawyers in their freedoms to carry out their profession. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and government enforced restrictions, resulted in an increase in these numbers. Alec Muchadehama, a human rights lawyer from Zimbabwe, describes the situation of lawyers under the lockdown as follows:
“ [W]e had insurmountable difficulties moving to police stations and the Courts. We would be frisked at the check points. We would not be allowed to pass despite identifying ourselves as lawyers. Whilst we were prevented from reaching our clients, they were being over detained and being held incommunicado. The case of Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova makes sad reading. They were kidnapped by suspected State security agents. On 5 May 2020 they temporarily disappeared and were discovered 36 hours later, severely tortured. They are now facing allegations of breaking the COVID-19 regulations and spreading falsehoods prejudicial to the State.”
L4L and ZLHR call upon the Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee in all circumstances that lawyers in Zimbabwe are able to carry out their legitimate professional rights and duties without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment. In its task of promoting and ensuring the proper role of lawyers, the Government of Zimbabwe should respect, and take account of, the Basic Principles within the framework of its national legislation and practice. Adherence to the Basic Principles is considered a fundamental pre-condition to fulfilling the requirement that all persons have effective access to legal assistance and representation. Furthermore, as a member of the African Union and the UN, and as a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Zimbabwe has legal obligations to adopt measures that effectively ensure rights to liberty, freedom from arbitrary detention, freedom of expression, and fair trial.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said Harare lawyer and opposition politician, Tendai Biti was arrested by police in Karoi early on Saturday and later released without a charge.
Biti, a former Finance Minister and critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government also received deaths threats after a heated telephone conversation with a person identifying himself as Gakanjwe. ZLHR posted on Twitter:
At about 09:25 hours today, we received a distress call from [Tendai Biti] advising us that he had been arrested by police in Karoi. He was not informed of any charge. He was eventually released without any charges against him.
[Biti] has since advised us that he has been receiving death threats. This follows a heated telephone conversation with a person identifying himself as Gakanjwe quizzing [Biti about] tweeting on [government’s] failure to deal with COVID-19.
According to ZLHR, at about 4 PM today, they received another distress call that some unidentified people two men and a woman were affixing cardboard boxes with threatening messages at Tendai Biti Law Firm in Harare.
This follows a press statement on COVID-19 situation by ZANU PF in which [Biti] was mentioned.
Our member lawyer [Biti] has been subjected to harassment, ill-treatment, prosecution and persecution in recent months.
The three people who put up the cardboard boxes with those messages, threatened to come back and burn down the law firm.
Zimbabwean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release opposition leaders and a journalist and drop the malicious charges against them, Amnesty International said today as one of the three appeared in court for bail application.
Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition Movement for Democratic Change – Alliance (MDC-A) leader Job Sikhala and spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, were arrested between 8 and 11 January on charges related to “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state”.
“The latest arrests of Hopewell Chin’ono, Job Sikhala and Fadzayi Mahere are part of a growing crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other critical voices. It is consistent with the constant harassment and intimidation that we have seen against anyone who demands respect for human rights, transparency, and accountability in Zimbabwe in the recent past,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“Zimbabwean authorities must stop treating human rights with contempt and start tolerating dissenting views.”
MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere has been arrested and charged with ‘publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state’ for posting widely circulated video which purported to show a baby killed by a policeman’s baton stick while strapped to its mother.
The arrest comes after Mahere tweeted that police had beaten an infant to death while enforcing Covid-19 lockdown rules this week.
Police later said the information was false.
Mahere is the third person to be arrested for publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state’ for posting widely circulated video after Zimbabwe journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and MDC Alliance lawmaker Job Sikhala.
Chin’ono was the first to be arrested for circulating the video in question. Hopewell Chin’ono spent the weekend in prison after he was arrested by police Friday and charged with publishing or communicating falsehoods while Job Sikhala was arrested on Saturday on same charges & spent the weekend detained at Harare Central Police Station.
POLICE have arrested MDC Alliance top politician Job Sikhala outside the Harare magistrates’ court.
Sikhala, also a lawyer, was part of the legal team representing freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono who was arrested Friday charged with communicating falsehoods through tweeting that a junior police officer had killed a baby with a baton stick earlier during the week.
Sikhala claimed via social media Friday that police were looking for him over the same matter.
Both the legislator and Chin’ono were arrested last year charged with violence incitement relating to what was a planned opposition anti-corruption demonstration which was foiled by security agents last July.
Prominent Harare lawyer Advocate Thabani Mpofu was arrested on Tuesday accused of obstructing the course of justice over a tweet published in September.
Mpofu attended Harare Central Police station by appointment with his lawyer and was formally charged over comments he made criticising fast-food outlet Chicken Inn for allegedly aiding the prosecution of three female MDC Alliance activists accused of faking their abduction and torture.
“I have been charged with obstructing the course of justice, it being alleged that my tweet meant to obstruct the course of justice in the MDC trio case,” Mpofu told ZimLive from the police station.
Mpofu was later released after a warned and cautioned statement was recorded, according to his lawyers Harrison Nkomo and Oliver Marwa.
Mpofu put out the tweet in September after the release of a Zanu PF propaganda video purporting to show that Harare West MP Joana Mamombe and activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were in fact walking free at the time they said they were in police custody in May this year.
On 17 August 2020, the Zimbabwean Magistrate Nduna attracted global outrage after he disqualified the lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her client journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, and accepted a request by prosecutors to bar her from the case. Today, on the 15th of December, there has been a very welcome development in the case.
In their application for review of Magistrate Nduna’s decision filed in September 2020, Mtetwa & Chin’ono argued that the Magistrate’s ruling is unconstitutional and effectively deprives the freelance journalist of his right to legal representation of his choice. In the hearing of the application today, Advocate Taona Nyamakura, representing Mtetwa and Chin’ono, told Justice Zhou that the filing of the State’s application in Magistrate court which led to the barring of Mtetwa was malicious. The review application proved successful. Justice Zhou has set aside Magistrate Nduna’s ruling and ordered that he must be disqualified from further participation in Chin’ono’s criminal trial.
The order barring Beatrice Mtetwa from handling the case of journalist Mr. Chin’ono has been overturned. Justice Zhou has set aside Magistrate Nduna’s ruling and ordered that he must be disqualified from further participation in Chin’ono’s criminal trial.https://t.co/n9DQL8SZy9