The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) says it is extremely concerned over recent unprecedented attacks by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and several organizations on human rights defenders particularly human rights lawyers, doctors and nurses for carrying out their legitimate activities.
In a statement, the ZLHR said these attacks are not only unwarranted but greatly undermine any progress made in advancing human rights Zimbabwe, a country with a history of human rights abuses.
The ZLHR said of particular concern was the persistent attacks on human rights lawyers and doctors over the last four weeks by suspected state security agents through the media.
It said the attacks include claims made in the state-controlled at the end of January that human rights lawyers wanted to effect regime change and undermined the judiciary and remarks by Citizen’s Forum that the ZLHR fueled public protests in January.”
“… Citizen’s Forum made some baseless and spurious allegations against ZLHR accusing the organisation of organising the protests and being responsible for causing the deaths of people and loss of property. The so-called Citizen’s Forum followed this up by visiting ZLHR’s head office in Harare on Thursday 7 February 2019 and handed in a petition, giving ZLHR an ultimatum to respond to its demands within 48 hours failing which it would besiege the organisation’s offices.
“An independent check by ZLHR has confirmed that leaders of Citizen’s Forum, Lonias Rozvi Majoni and Hosiah Mviringi identify themselves as affiliates of the ruling ZANU PF party.”
The ZLHR also noted that the organization was attacked by the Zimbabwe African Union Patriotic Front Youth League, which was unhappy over their legal representation of people who were arrested and detained for staging public protests.
The organization said it was shocked by Mnangagwa’s attacks. “On 16 February 2019, the president Emmerson Mnangagwa also made disturbing utterances condemning lawyers, doctors and nurses representing those who had been arrested in connection with the January 2019 protests and threatened undisclosed action against them.
“The statement by the president is the latest in a series of attacks against lawyers representing individuals arrested and charged with committing several offences during the anti-government protests held in January 2019. ZLHR is extremely concerned about the safety of its lawyers and staff members as well as the doctors who have been providing support to the injured human rights defenders (HRDs).”
The ZLHR said these unwarranted attacks on lawyers, doctors, nurses and other HRDs for carrying out their legitimate activities “are unacceptable as being in direct violation of international norms and standards, the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the rule of law.
Although ZLHR accepts everyone’s right to express themselves, it is pertinent that such rights should be enjoyed without threats or instilling fear in HRDs of harassment, intimidation, assault or fear for lives.
“ZLHR is also concerned that the recent attacks on lawyers undermine the rights of lawyers to be able to consult freely with their clients and to represent their clients in court to provide effective legal representation as enshrined in Sections 50 and 70 of the Constitution.”
The ZLHR said the intimidation and harassment of lawyers breached Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantee the right to legal counsel of one’s choice.
“Further, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, guarantees the right of all persons to be assisted by a lawyer to protect their rights and to defend them in all stages of criminal proceedings. The Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers also provide that governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hinderance or harassment and that lawyers are not identified with their clients as a result of discharging their functions.
“ZLHR calls on the Government of Zimbabwe to cease targeting of lawyers and other HRDs for doing their work and take action against the above-named leaders of the so-called Citizen’s Forum.”
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba was unreachable for comment.