Zimbabwe
20.08.20
Urgent Interventions

Judicial harassment of Mr. Hopewell Chin'ono's lawyer Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

New information

ZWE 002 / 0720 / OBS 084.1

Judicial harassment

/ Arbitrary detention

Zimbabwe

August 20, 2020

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your intervention in the following situation in Zimbabwe.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the judicial harassment of Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa, human rights lawyer representing Mr. Hopewell Chin’ono (alias Daddy Hope), a freelance investigative journalist and filmmaker arbitrarily detained since July 20, 2020 for having exposed alleged corruption in the procurement of COVID-19 medical supplies[1].

On August 18, 2020, Harare Magistrate Ngoni Nduna ordered Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa to stand down from representing Mr. Hopewell Chin'ono. He further ordered the Prosecutor General to consider prosecution against Ms. Mtetwa for contempt of court, and ordered the Law Society of Zimbabwe to cancel her license. The ruling followed an application filed by prosecutor Whisper Mabhaudi on August 13, under accusations of “scandalising the court”. Ms. Mtetwa has since indicated her intentions to appeal this decision to the High Court of Zimbabwe.

In his August-18 ruling, Magistrate Nduna notably argued that Facebook posts published on a page called “Beatrice Mtetwa & The Rule of Law” had scandalised the court. He particularly referred to a post calling on the international community to speak out against Mr. Chin’ono’s imprisonment, and a post denouncing the conditions of Mr. Chin’ono’s arrest, describing them as an “abduction by state security services”.

The Prosecutor alleged that Ms. Mtetwa was the author of the posts, although the real owner and administrator of the said page, filmmaker Lorie Conway, publicly stated in a post dated August 15 that Ms. Mtetwa has no access to this page and that Ms. Conway was the only Administrator listed - and allowed by Facebook - to write these posts.

The Observatory strongly condemns the judicial harassment against Ms. Mtetwa as it seems to be only aimed at punishing her for her legitimate human rights activities in defence of Mr. Chin’ono, who seems to be the other target of this decision which deprives him of his right to a fair trial and his right to be represented by a lawyer of his choice.

The Observatory calls upon the authorities of Zimbabwe to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Chin’ono and to put an end to any kind of harassment, including at the judicial level, against him and his lawyer Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa, as well as all human rights defenders in the country.

The Observatory further calls upon the Law Society of Zimbabwe to refrain from cancelling Ms. Mtetwa’s licence, as this would constitute a direct act of reprisal for her human rights work.

Background information:

On July 20, 2020, eight armed State security agents broke the glass front door of Mr. Hopewell Chin’ono’s house in Chisipite, Harare, and took him to the Law and Order section of Harare Central Police Station. At the time of the arrest, the State agents did not produce any arrest warrant and refused to produce identification documents to Mr. Chin’ono.

On the same day, police officers arrested Mr. Jacob Ngarivhume at his house in Harare before conducting him to Harare Central Police Station. Mr. Jacob Ngarivhume is the President of Transform Zimbabwe, an opposition political party. He is the convener of the planned civil society’s July 31, 2020 demonstration against corruption and for the President Emmerson Mnangagwa to step down.

Both men were denied access to their lawyer and were not informed promptly of the charges they were facing, in violation of their right to due process. The Minister of Information and Publicity of Zimbabwe confirmed[2] later that the police arrested them in connection with allegations of contravening Section 187 (1)(a) as read with Section 36 (1)(a) and Section 37 (1)(a)(i) of the Criminal Law (Codification & Reform) Act, Chapter 9:23, and charged with “inciting the public to engage in a gathering with intent to commit public violence”, alternatively “incitement to commit public violence”.

On July 21, 2020, police officers searched the house of Mr. Hopewell Chin’ono, in his presence, in search for gadgets which they say he used to post three tweets “inciting public violence”. Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa had to request for the search warrant various times before the police officer show it to her. She also stopped the police officers from taking cameras, not covered by the warrant. However, in the evening of the same day, a group armed riot police unlawfully raided Mr. Hopewell’s home and eventually managed to seize his camera.

On July 22, 2020, Messrs. Chin’ono and Ngarivhume appeared respectively before Court 14 and Court 11 of the Rottenrow Magistrates Court, which postponed their bail hearings to July 23. The hearings then continued on July 24, 2020, when Magistrate Ngoni Nduna refused to grant them bail. Although Messrs. Chin’ono’s and Ngarivhume’s lawyers appealed the decision before the High Court, Justice Tawanda Chitapi dismissed their appeal on August 6, 2020.

Another appeal was subsequently filed by their lawyers based on "changed circumstances", after both human rights defenders were tranferred from Harare Remand Prison to Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on August 7, 2020, where their rights to receive food parcels and to communicate with their lawyers has been severely restricted. A hearing within the framework of Mr. Chin’ono’s second appeal took place but the court has not yet finalised the bail hearing due to questions raised by prosecutor Whisper Mahbaudi regarding Ms. Mtetwa’s eligibility to continue as the lead defence counsel for Mr. Hopewell Chin’ono. The court has since advised Mr. Hopewell Chin’ono to find another lawyer to allow the bail proceedings to continue.

The next bail hearing related to Mr. Jacob Ngarivhume was argued by his defence team on August 17, 2020 before Magistrate Trynos Utahwashe. The matter has since been rolled over to August 21, 2020, when Magistrate Trynos Utahwashe is expected to render his decision. Messrs. Chin’ono and Ngarivhume both remain held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison as of issuing this urgent appeal.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Zimbabwe asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa, Messrs. Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, as well as all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe;

ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, as their detention is arbitrary and only aimed at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities;

iii. Guarantee in all circumstances Messrs. Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume’s right to a fair trial and to be represented by lawyers of their choice;

iv. Put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa, Messrs. Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, as well as all human rights defenders in Zimbabwe, and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance;

v. Conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1 and 12; and

vi. Ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights instruments ratified by Zimbabwe.

Addresses:

· President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa; Fax: +263 4 708 211 / + 263.4.70.38.58 @edmnangagwa

· Mr. Kazembe Kazembe, Minister of Home Affairs, thesecretary@moha.gov.zw,

· Mr. Sibusiso Moyo, Minister of Foreign Affairs, mfa@zimfa.gov.zw

· Mr. Ziyambi Ziyambi, Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Phone: +263 2 42 77 46 20/7, Fax: +263 2 42 77 29 99

· Mr. Prince Machaya, Attorney-General, Office of the Attorney; Fax: + 263 4 77 32 47;

· Ambassador Mr. Taonga Mushayavanhu, Permanent Mission of Zimbabwe to the United Nations in Geneva; Email: mission.zimbabwe@ties.itu.int

· Embassy of Zimbabwe in Brussels; Email: zimbrussels@skynet.be

Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Zimbabwe in your respective country.

***

Paris-Geneva, August 20, 2020

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org

· Tel FIDH: +33 1 43 55 25 18

· Tel OMCT: +41 22 809 49 39


[1] The journalist was detained after reporting allegations involving US$60 million worth of contracts awarded to companies at inflated prices for COVID-19 supplies, including Personal Protective Equipment, by the Ministry of Health.

[2] See : https://twitter.com/MinOfInfoZW/status/1285220113533276162

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts