International groups demand end to harassment of Zim lawyers

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) and Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L) have called on Zimbabwean authorities to stop the intimidation and harassment of human rights lawyers, stating that independent lawyers must be allowed to carry out their duties.

The call comes in response to the arrest of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) senior lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, who was reportedly denied entry into a courtroom by police officers while attempting to represent his client, former Zengeza West legislator, Job Sikhala, on January 24, 2024.

In a statement issued on Monday, the organizations noted that independent lawyers play a critical role in protecting the rule of law and human rights in a country and should be able to carry out their professional duties in a free and secure environment.

“The IBAHRI and L4L call on the Zimbabwean authorities to promptly and adequately investigate the harassment and hindrance of Mr Nkomo to ensure accountability for police abuses perpetrated against lawyers and to immediately take action to ensure his safety and physical integrity, including the provision of effective protection measures, to guarantee that lawyers are able to carry out their legitimate professional activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions,” the statement read.

“We urge the authorities to refrain from actions that may constitute harassment, persecution, or undue interference in the work of lawyers in Zimbabwe, including their criminal prosecution on improper grounds such as the nature of cases in which the lawyer is involved.”

In addition to expressing their concerns, the organizations applauded the authorities for dropping charges against two other ZLHR lawyers, Douglas Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi, who had been arrested while representing members of the opposition party, the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC).

Charges against the two lawyers were dropped on January 26, 2024, due to lack of evidence to sustain prosecution.

“We welcome the decision to drop charges brought against two human rights lawyers, Coltart and Muchineripi, who were arrested by police officers and charged with ‘defeating or obstructing the course of justice’ and impeding the police from discharging their professional duty,” the statement read. “On 26 January 2024, the Zimbabwe National Prosecution Authority (ZNPA) withdrew the charges against the two lawyers, due to lack of evidence to sustain the prosecution. Although the ZNPA’s decision is welcomed by the IBAHRI and L4L, concern remains about the ongoing pressure on Zimbabwe’s legal profession.”

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