The Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) condemns the recent barring of Zimbabwean human rights lawyer and SALC board member, Beatrice Mtetwa, from representing her client, Hopewell Chin’ono, in a bail application before a magistrate’s court in Zimbabwe. SALC’s Executive Director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, made the following statement, “The barring of Beatrice Mtetwa is deeply troubling, and is designed to intimidate her and other lawyers from speaking their minds, challenging the judiciary, and defending human rights and the rule of law”.
In July 2020, Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist, was arrested and charged with incitement to participate in public violence. Mr Chin’ono was at the forefront of investigating and writing on government corruption related to the allocation of resources to the Covid-19 pandemic management in Zimbabwe. On 18 August 2020, Magistrate Ngoni Nduna made an order barring Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her client. The court also ordered the Prosecutor General to consider initiating prosecution proceedings against her for contempt of court, for allegations of “scandalising the court” through purported social media comments and a letter of complaint addressed to the court.
The court procedure as well as the legal authority of the court to take the decision to disqualify Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her client, in the absence of an investigation into the allegations and proper contempt proceedings, do not conform to the rule of law. The inescapable implication and effects are the denial of Hopewell Chin’ono to his chosen lawyer, which is a violation of his right to legal representation of his choice, an important aspect of access to justice. If the actions of the Magistrate’s court are not widely condemned in the strongest terms this will have a chilling effect on the ability of lawyers in Zimbabwe to discharge their duties to their clients freely without fear of reprisals or being associated with their clients’ causes.
We remind the authorities in Zimbabwe to uphold rights of fair trial and access to justice, in line with the provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, particularly section 69(4) which state that “ Every person has a right, at their own expense, to choose and be represented by a legal practitioner before any court, tribunal or forum” and section 70(d) which states that “Any accused person has a right to choose a legal practitioner and, at their own expense, to be represented by that legal practitioner.”
We further remind the authorities in Zimbabwe that the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in section 1, states that “ All persons are entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer of their choice to protect and establish their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings”,
SALC calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to uphold the rights of the accused to a fair trial and access to justice through legal representation of their choice and not to hinder lawyers from representing their clients and performing their functions.