The Law Society of Zimbabwe says the sudden spate of lawyers that are either harassed or arrested is unacceptable.
Of late, the arrest of legal practitioners has become a common feature in Zimbabwe.
In June a number of lawyers such as Patrick Tererai, Dumisani Dube, Advocate Choice Damiso (subsequently released after being turned into a state witness), Tapiwa Makanza and Joshua Chirambwe were arrested.
More recently, Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, who was the lead counsel in the case involving journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, was barred from representing him and is likely to face prosecution for contempt of court after Harare magistrate, Ngoni Nduna, ordered the Prosecutor-General to institute legal action against her.
In an interview with CITE, current president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, Thandaza Masiye-Moyo said although it was difficult to precisely explain why there was sudden increase in the arrest of lawyers, the development was unacceptable.
“It is difficult to say with any precision as to why the sudden increase of arrests of lawyers but look, this is where we are now. We are seeing it happening whether it speaks to other developments in the country relating to the economy or politics of it, it’s anybody guess. But it is important for all of us now to say this is unacceptable. Let’s find a way of stopping the harassment of legal practitioners,” he said.
Masiye-Moyo said as was common cause, Zimbabwe remained a polarised society, giving rise to opposing views among citizens including lawyers but that was not reason to attack legal practitioners.
“Part of it could be the result of that, the solution may not necessarily lie in one place it could be a collective solution but I’m not committing myself to an answer as to why there’s been sudden spate of arrests of legal practitioners,” said the law society president.
Tuesday, Mtetwa was harassed by police as she tried to enter Rotten Row Magistrates Court in Harare and the case is now under investigation by the Law Society of Zimbabwe.
“We are concerned about what we saw as the society and have set out to investigate exactly what transpired and gather facts. This morning, I was talking to the secretary of the Law Society who is making all efforts to gather facts. Once we have full facts, we will take an informed decision and make a meaningful statement,” Masiye-Moyo said.
He added that the Law Society would not want to pre-empt its decision as legally, they would have to know who was wrong, if the state – how wrong it was and that information would inform their approach.
“But as it relates generally, when not in the distance past we had a number of lawyers that were arrested around the same time and week, the arrest itself was in circumstances where we believed there was systematic manner in which it appeared. The arrests were not genuine, were towards harassment – where you have people visited in early hours of the morning by armed police and these are officers of the court.”
He added: “We were concerned and we did indicate that it was unacceptable and we do indicate now. Our case is not that legal practitioners do not commit offences, we are saying due process must be done in a transparent, respectable, not in a vindictive manner.”
He noted that the Law Society held a series of meetings with the Minister of Justice, Prosecutor General, Minister of Home Affairs, Police Commissioner General and his deputies where they agreed that the “harassment of lawyers is unacceptable and all steps are going to be taken to make sure the harassment does not happen.”
Masiye-Moyo noted that the role of a lawyer in any civilised system is very crucial and Zimbabwe was not an exception.
“The rights to legal representation are enshrined in the constitution. It starts in Chapter Four, the declaration of rights and if you look at Section 50 (5) (c), rights start upon arrest. An accused person must be allowed access to his or her lawyer and the state has an obligation to make sure the rights to communicate and confer with lawyer are respected, right from point of arrest,” he said.
“So important is that right to the accused so much – it is enshrined in the constitution. Look at Section 70, every accused person has a right to have legal representation of a lawyer of their own choice. In the words of the constitution, it is the right to choose own person to represent you and that right must be respected.”
The Law Society of Zimbabwe is a statutory body that is governed by the Legal Practitioners Act and is responsible for representing its members and regulating the legal profession.