SALC Statement on arrest and detention of Zimbabwean lawyer Thabani Mpofu

Salc : Staff Writer

SALC is deeply concerned by the arrest and detention of prominent Zimbabwean lawyer, Advocate Thabani Mpofu. He was arrested on the 1st June 2020 by the Zimbabwe Republic Police on charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice. Mpofu appears to have been arrested in connection with a constitutional case he was working on concerning the appointment of the Prosecutor General. That case challenged and attempted to nullify the appointment of Kumbirai Hodzi as Prosecutor General for the reason that Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa failed to adhere to constitutional provisions and rejected consideration of qualified candidates without cause. The case argued that Mnangagwa had appointed a person who disqualified himself during the public interviews by announcing that he was not prepared to be independent but would take instructions from the executive. Mpofu is alleged to have used an affidavit in that case of a person who does not exist and of using the same affidavit in a second similar application.

It is a concern that the Zimbabwean authorities are targeting lawyers who are perceived to be taking on anti-government cases. We remind the Zimbabwean authorities of the United Nation’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers[1] and draw their attention to the following provisions:

Guarantees for the functioning of lawyers

  1. Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.
  2. Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
  3. Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.
  4. Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative authority.
  5. Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential.

It is distressing that we are seeing a rise in the intimidation, threats and reprisals against lawyers in Zimbabwe. Mpofu is now the latest lawyer to be charged with defeating or obstructing the course of justice after the arrest of Beatrice Mtetwa in 2013 on the same charges. Currently, human rights lawyer Douglas Coltart is on trial for allegedly participating in an anti-government protest. Mpofu is being represented by formidable human rights lawyer and longstanding SALC Trustee Beatrice Mtetwa, Ray Moyo and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

[1] Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 27 August to 7 September 1990