ZIMBABWE: Two lawyers arrested for obstruction of justice
18 October 2023
Zimbabwean human rights lawyers Doug Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi were arrested by the Zimbabwean authorities in Harare on 4 September 2023 on charges of “obstruction of justice”. Their arrest was the result of reports to the police that their clients had been tortured.
Both known for their commitment to democracy and human rights in Zimbabwe, Doug Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi were the legal representatives of Womberaishe Nhende and Sanele Mkhuhlani, members of the opposition political party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
The lawyers had informed the police authorities that their clients were in a worrying state of health, requiring medical attention as a result of the torture they had suffered. Following this information, Mr Coltart and Mr Muchineripi were arrested by the authorities.
The human rights defenders were released on bail on 5 September 2023 and ordered to report to the Harare police station once a week. Their arrest sparked outrage among human rights organisations.
According to the NGO Lawyers for Lawyers and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, human rights lawyers are being particularly targeted in the context of the Zimbabwean elections. Human rights lawyer Obey Shava was also attacked in July 2023. The cases of threats against human rights lawyers are therefore not isolated and demonstrate the repression against them because of the exercise of their profession.
Representatives of human rights defenders said that the arrests of Doug Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi were an attack on the legal profession and its independence.
The Observatory is concerned about the increase in prosecutions of human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe.
The Observatory condemns the attacks on the exercise of the profession of lawyer by the Zimbabwean authorities.
The Observatory calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect all the guarantees of a fair trial in the cases against Doug Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi.
The Observatory recalls that, in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Principles on the Role of Lawyers, in particular principles 16, 17, 18 and 27:
Principle 16: “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”
Principle 17: “Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.”
Principle 18: “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”
Principle 27: “Charges or complaints made against lawyers in their professional capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under appropriate procedures. Lawyers shall have the right to a fair hearing, including the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice.”