By Professor Matodzi
Harare, September 6, 2013 – Zimbabwe’s leading legal defense group, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) has protested against the classification of human rights lawyers as endangered species for simply executing their professional duties in the country.
On Friday, ZLHR became the first legal body in the country to break its silence over the sustained attacks and harassment of legal practitioners in Zimbabwe.
The human rights group raised concern that lawyers were now much vulnerable following the rising attacks on legal practitioners in Zimbabwe which recently culminated with a High Court judge recommending the prosecution of lawyers.
“ZLHR has observed with great concern that lawyers continue to be an endangered species in Zimbabwe. ……Where a lawyer is targeted without just cause and/or due process, this has a chilling effect on other lawyers who will censor themselves and not deliver justice for their clients and the greater national cause,” ZLHR said in a strongly worded statement released on Friday.
Justice Chinembiri Bhunu recently urged the country’s prosecuting authorities to punish MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s lawyers, who filed two urgent applications demanding an audit of the country’s disputed election result.
Bhunu claimed that Tsvangirai’s lawyers Lewis Uriri, Alec Muchadehama and Tarisai Mutangi acted unethically after they sought to rely on a dossier compiled by the MDC-T leader criticising the judiciary.
In March police arrested prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and charged her with attempting to defeat or obstruct the course of justice while she was executing her professional duties.
In June, The Herald newspaper attempted to malign ZLHR’s reputation after publishing a series of stories attacking the legal defence group for allegedly leading the MDC-T litigation crusade. The newspaper breached professional legal ethics by publishing communications between lawyers and their clients and embarked on a blatant propagandistic attempt to interfere in serious litigation that was pending before the courts and sought to set the legal profession on a collision course with the judiciary.
To protect the lawyers, ZLHR called all concerned stakeholders to promote mutual understanding and respect within the legal profession and to increase substantive engagement between lawyers in the private and public sectors and members of the judiciary at all levels.
The Prosecutor-General, ZLHR said, must without fear or favour, take swift and effective measures to ensure the prosecution or disciplining of all offenders who carry out unwarranted attacks on members of the legal profession, so as to discourage this practice and the growing culture of impunity.
“ZLHR finally reiterates that, whilst members of the legal profession are not above the law, any action taken against them must respect and safeguard their constitutional rights and regional norms and standards, and must only be taken in accordance with the principles of natural justice and after due process has been afforded them. Where this is not done, justice delivery will be the ultimate loser and confidence in the authorities – not only by the legal profession, but also by society at large – will be adversely affected,” ZLHR said.
Meanwhile, the Law Society of Zimbabwe has called for an extraordinary general meeting of its members schedule for late Friday to map out responses to the rising threats and attacks on legal practitioners in Zimbabwe.