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Legal knives are out for human rights lawyers in Zim

Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has lodged a court challenge against the magistrate presiding over investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono’s case, which is due back in court on Monday.

By Fazila Mahomed

Zimbabwean lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa

“I’m going to challenge this decision in the higher courts,” said Beatrice Mtetwa soon after being barred by magistrate Ngoni Nduna from representing persecuted journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.  

Mtetwa lodged a high court application on 7 September 2020 to have Nduna disqualified from presiding over Chin’ono’s trial, and for the state prosecutor to be banned from prosecuting the freelance journalist. Chin’ono was recently released after being in custody for 47 days on charges of inciting violence on social media.

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Mtetwa said, “It was the state prosecutor who first applied for me to be removed from the case, after he produced the so-called Facebook page alleging it belonged to me. 

“The magistrate, without hearing any proper evidence as to where the downloaded page came from, who downloaded it, from which site… just accepted it irregularly without following proper procedures for introducing evidence,” said Mtetwa. 

“I have sued both the magistrate and prosecutor, while Chin’ono is also suing the two court officials because they denied him the right to a lawyer of his choice. So, both the prosecutor and magistrate cannot continue in this case while they are being sued by both myself and Chin’ono.”

While Mtetwa was barred from being Chin’ono’s lead lawyer, the ruling did not bar her from being part of the current legal team representing the journalist. However, the ruling recommended that the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) revoke Mtetwa’s licence. 

Chin’ono, who was arrested in July and charged with inciting people to revolt against President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, is being represented by a team of four lawyers including the new lead counsel, Taona Nyamakura, supported by Roselyn Hanzi, Doug Coltart and Gift Mtisi. 

Chin’ono will be back in court on 14 September for the start of his trial, in which the state alleges that he – together with Jacob Ngarivhume, the leader of Transform Zimbabwe – incited people on social media to revolt against the government. The journalist was freed after 47 days and four failed attempts to secure bail.

The plight of accused people in Zimbabwe

Mtetwa’s bid to have magistrate Nduna and prosecutor Mabhaudhi removed from presiding over Chin’ono’s trial is being handled by Coltart, who found himself before the same courts in August for allegedly plotting civil disobedience.

Coltart and four co-accused trade unionists were acquitted on 19 August after facing prosecution and persecution since 2019, when they were arrested at a workshop in possession of a book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, which the authorities deemed “subversive”.

The bail application for opposition MDC Alliance deputy chairman, Job Sikhala, failed to get underway in the high court on 9 September because the record of proceedings had not been signed by the presiding magistrate, Lazini Ncube, who had gone on leave.

No other magistrate was willing to sign the record. The chief  magistrate, Munamato Mutevedzi, also declined to sign, claiming the record was “too long”. Sikhala’s lawyers had to seek a high court order compelling presiding magistrate Ncube to return from leave and sign the document, or for the chief magistrate to sign it.

Sikhala, a lawyer and member of parliament for Zengeza west, was arrested on 21 August 2020 for allegedly inciting violence after supporting calls for a nationwide protest by Jacob Ngarivhume under the hashtag #31stJuly. According to his lawyer Jeremiah Bhamu, the Zengeza west legislator was not in good health and needed urgent medical attention.

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Sikhala’s lawyer Jeremiah Bhamu said, “We were finally given the signed record on 10 September.”

Bhamu said they must now wait for the court to read the record and rule on the application for bail.

Zimbabwean lawyers remain targeted, with the latest case being Tapiwa Makanza who, on 10 September, appeared before magistrate Nduna after the state prosecutor, Michael Reza, sought to have Makanza’s bail revoked and have him detained until finalisation of his trial. 

Reza alleges that Makanza is interfering with state witness Simbarashe Zuze. 

Makanza’s trial date is yet to be set after he was arrested in June and charged with “obstructing or attempting to defeat the course of justice”. He is being represented by human rights lawyer Obey Shava.

Both the South African government and the ANC have sent delegations to Zimbabwe in a space of less than a month to try to broker peace in the troubled southern African nation. 

The first delegation, in August, was led by Sydney Mufamadi and Baleka Mbete, while the most recent one, led by Ace Magashule, arrived on 8 September. Just as the first delegation did on its visit, Magashule’s team met only with Zanu-PF leaders, including President Mnangagwa. It did not meet opposition or civil society leaders.

The Zimbabwean government continues to deny that there is a crisisDM

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