Zimbabwe: Court bars recognized lawyer from representing jailed journalist

UPDATED 4 NOVEMBER A Harare court banned prominent lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa from defending journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, ruling she was in contempt of court. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) called the 18 August decision "an attack against the journalist’s right of defense" and demanded a fair trial for Chin’ono.

Chin'ono consults with his lawyers while police search his office. Credits: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA / AFP

The magistrate argued in a decision published by The Herald newspaper that the lawyer had offended the court by posting about court proceedings on a Facebook page called Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law. Mtetwa denied being the author of the posts.

Following the decision, American filmmaker Lorie Conway repeatedly confirmed via Facebook posts that she was the author and that Mtetwa had no access to edit the page. The name of the page was changed into Lorie Conway's Page about the film Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law. Lorie Conway had directed the 2014 documentary.

Mtetwa is known for her work as a defender for press freedom and has represented dozens of journalists.

Chin’ono was arrested on July 20 for alleged incitement "to participate in public violence". He had reported on corruption by the Zimbabwean government and has been in jail since.

According to a report by the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists (ZUJ), security officers forcefully seized him from his house. The ZUJ condemned the detention claiming: “Acts of aggression against journalists such as Hopewell who engage in investigative journalism are a clear sign that he is being victimized for exposing corruption in government.”

IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger said: “The dismissal of Chin’ono’s lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa is just the tip of the iceberg in an unfair trial against a journalist. The accusations against her are clearly unfounded. We see how courts in Zimbabwe are used to crack down on critical voices. We demand that she is immediately reinstated as Chin’ono’s lawyer and that he is guaranteed a fair trial.”

Updated (04/11/2020): After Chin’ono was released on bail on 2 September, he was rearrested on 4 November. He has been charged with contempt of court for allegedly breaking his bail conditions.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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