ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) is extremely concerned about the arrest of legal practitioners waged by Zimbabwean authorities, who arrested two human rights lawyers and charged them for allegedly defeating or obstructing the course of justice, while executing their professional duties.
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers on Monday 4 September 2023 arrested Tapiwa Muchineripi and Douglas Coltart, who are members of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, and charged them with defeating or obstructing the course of justice as defined in section 184 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
ZRP officers alleged that Muchineripi and Coltart obstructed some ZRP officers from having access to interview Womberaiishe Nhende, the Councillor-Elect for Ward 26 in Glen Norah suburb in Harare and Sanele Mukhuhlani, who are victims of suspected kidnapping and Malicious Damage to Property, who were admitted at a local medical facility.
ZLHR strongly condemns the persecution of Muchineripi and Coltart, and view this as a deliberate and coordinated effort by ZRP officers to impede legal practitioners from undertaking their professional duties.
This conduct by ZRP officers is a clear departure from the Constitution, which enshrines the right of citizens to be represented by legal practitioners of their choice and the right by lawyers to practice their trade.
ZLHR believes that this gross encroachment by ZRP officers has the effect of undermining the rule of law and is aimed at creating a climate of fear among legal practitioners representing perceived opponents of the state.
ZLHR recalls the United Nations (UN) Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers which requires governments to ensure that lawyers are able to perform their professional functions without improper interference.
The actions of ZRP officers violate the fundamental guarantee, contained in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers which provide that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers require Zimbabwean authorities to ensure that lawyers should perform their professional functions without harassment, intimidation, hindrance, interference and should not be subjected to or threatened with prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for merely performing their professional tasks.
While discharging their legitimate exercise of their noble profession, lawyers must be considered as officers of the court and aides to the administration of justice, who should be entitled to due courtesy and respect.
Subjecting legal practitioners to arrests, detention, and prosecuting them ironically on charges of obstruction of justice shows how law enforcement agents have disregarded the role of lawyers in the administration of justice.
Therefore, ZLHR calls upon Zimbabwean authorities to:
- Enable lawyers to carry out their professional duties safely and independently, and protect them against intimidation, threats and reprisals;
- Take all necessary measures to guarantee the physical safety and security of legal practitioners;
- Cease all acts of harassment against legal practitioners.
- Guarantee in all circumstances that legal practitioners will be able to carry out their legitimate professional duties without fear of being arrested.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
No. 103 Sam Nujoma Street, Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone: (+263 8677005347, +263 242 764085/705370/708118
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