Zimbabwe: ICJ calls on government to ensure the independence of lawyers
As of 9 June, at least ten prominent lawyers have been arrested and criminally charged in Zimbabwe.
Among them, Advocate Thabani Mpofu (photo), Advocate Choice Damiso, Mr Tapiwa Makanza and Mr Joshua Chirambwe have been arrested and charged with the crime of defeating or obstructing the course of justice.
These lawyers are alleged to have falsified information in the papers filed in a legal matter in which they were representing a citizen, who was challenging the legality of President Mnangagwa’s decision to appoint Mr Kumbirai Hodzi as the Prosecutor General.
Mr Dumisani Dube was arrested on similar charges but his charges arise from a different case.
Mr Patrick Tererai was charged with disorderly conduct after he demanded access to his client who had been detained at a police station.
The ICJ notes that the criminal charges laid against all the six lawyers are linked to the performance of their duties as legal practitioners.
The ICJ reminds the Government of Zimbabwe of its domestic and international obligations pertaining to the right to fair trial and protection of the independence of lawyers, as underscored in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa
These elaborate standards relevant to the right to a fair trial including under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Of particular significance is Principle 16 of the UN Basic Principles which states that “Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;…. and [lawyers] shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”
In addition, Principle 20 provides that “Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative authority.” Similar provisions are included in Part I of the African Principles and Guidelines.
A lawyer would not generally be immune from criminal proceedings where allegations of perjury or intentionally providing false information to a court were well-founded.
In relation to this recent group of cases, the Law Society of Zimbabwe has expressed the concern that the arrests appear calculated to hinder the members of the profession from undertaking their professional duties.
In this context, the ICJ calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to ensure that the right to fair trial for these lawyers is fully respected and that the criminal charges brought against these lawyers are not abused to subvert the independence of the legal profession.
“The arrest of ten lawyers within one week on criminal allegations arising from the performance of their duties as legal practitioners is a cause of concern. The state must ensure that these cases are handled fairly and that the criminal justice system is not abused to harass and intimidate lawyers who represent clients who are perceived as political opposition to the sitting government,” said ICJ Africa Director Arnold Tsunga.
Of late, Advocate Thabani Mpofu has represented opposition leader Mr Nelson Chamisa in a series of cases. These include the presidential election petition and the cases in which Mr Chamisa’s rise to the leadership of the opposition party has been challenged.
Arnold Tsunga, Director of the ICJ Africa Regional Programme, t: +263 77 728 3248, e: arnold.tsunga(a)icj.orgNewsWeb stories