HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwean magistrate Tuesday barred Beatrice Mtetwa, a top human rights lawyer, from representing a jailed journalist and ordered that she be prosecuted for comments posted on a Facebook page run by an American filmmaker.
Magistrate Ngoni Nduna also said he will forward his ruling to the Law Society of Zimbabwe for possible further punishment of the lawyer.
Mtetwa was representing Hopewell Chin’ono, an investigative journalist who has reported alleged government corruption on Twitter and has been in jail for more than three weeks on accusations of mobilizing an anti-government protest.
Prosecutors in Chin’ono’s bail case last week asked the magistrate to order Mtetwa to step down, arguing that she had posted on a Facebook page called “Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law” proceedings that were held in camera.
The allegedly offensive posts called on the international community to speak out against Chin’ono’s imprisonment.
Chin’ono told the court that Mtetwa had nothing to with the page. He said it was administered by an American filmmaker who produced a documentary by the name of the Facebook page, where people regularly post on human rights issues in Zimbabwe.
On Tuesday, the magistrate agreed with the prosecution and also ordered that Mtetwa should be charged with contempt of court.
Mtetwa has over the past decades represented dozens of journalists, human rights campaigners and opposition leaders accused of plotting against the government. She also frequently speaks against human rights abuses in the troubled southern African country.
She has been arrested, detained and allegedly assaulted by police in a pattern of harassment and intimidation.
Mtetwa said Tuesday’s ruling was meant to instill fear in human rights lawyers and could have the “chilling effect” of dissuading young lawyers from taking on human rights issues.
“The intention is to stop us defending a certain type of client … it means the right to legal representation has been severely curtailed and it has been curtailed by the courts,” she told reporters outside the court. She said she will appeal the ruling.