“It is an encouragement to me and others to keep defending, but my heart goes out to the people we represent, the actual victims of the repression. They deserve the prize more than myself” says Muchadehama who traveled to Amsterdam to receive the prize in person. “Apparently, lawyers around the world are watching. And that is a defence mechanism, because now I know that if I’m attacked in the line of duty, lawyers may come to my rescue!”
Muchadehama is a member of the Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights, a non-profit organisation that wants to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe. After receiving several local awards, the Lawyers For Lawyers award is the first international prize that Muchadehama brings home.During his career, 45-year-old Muchadehama experienced the brutality of the ZANU-PF regime in person. He was arrested three times while defending others, and in 2006 the University of Zimbabwe graduate had to seek refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare to escape from prosecution.
Right now, he is defending 46 suspects in a case that has gained international attention. The group was watching video tapes of the Jasmin revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia when the police rushed in to arrest them. But Muchadehama expects victory in court. “The judge has indicated that the State’s evidence is very weak. That’s why six of the key suspects have been released on bail. I don’t think that they will be convicted, but we’ll hear the final verdict when their case comes up on April 20.”
The Lawyers For Lawyers award is handed out for the first time, after a prominent jury carefully considered several nominees. “The nominees had to be put forward twice by different lawyers or firms” says jury member Egbert Myjer, normally a judge with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. “With this level of excellence, we decided to weigh the nominees on their current activities. We wanted attention for people that put their lives on the line as we speak. Unanimously, the jury declared Muchadehama the winner of this award.”
Alec Muchadehama is praised because of his perseverance. “This lawyer did not give up, he deserves international recognition. And, this prize may also give him extra protection” judge Myjer tells Radio Netherlands Worldwide. “When one is known internationally, it might be harder for the Zimbabwean government to harm him.”
But Muchadehama is not certain about the protection that the award will give him: “I don’t know how the regime will respond, the people down there act in a funny way. I see it as a buffer against a possible attack on my person. If they want me, they must know that everyone in every corner of this world is watching.”
After several dictatorships in the Middle East have been toppled, many look at the situation in Zimbabwe. Muchadehama: “The fact that the state has to repress the people is an indication that the people want change. Not in the Egytian way, or in the Tunesian way, but I foresee change coming.”
Change in Zimbabwe can only happen when president Robert Mugabe steps aside. And this is not very likely to happen, the 87-year-old dictator has announced that he wants to win another term. But Muchadehama doesn’t believe it would take much longer: “Nothing lasts forever, particularly dictatorships!”