Zimbabwean Authorities Drop Charges Against Human Rights Lawyers

The lawyers were arrested for allegedly interfering with the police investigation of two opposition activists who had been abducted and tortured by suspected state agents.

by Motoni Olodun

Two prominent human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe have been cleared of obstructing justice after challenging the police interrogation of their clients in hospital. Douglas Coltart and Tapiwa Muchineripi were arrested in September 2023 for allegedly interfering with the police investigation of two opposition activists who had been abducted and tortured by suspected state agents.

The lawyers argued that their clients were medically unfit to be questioned by the police, who had accused them of inciting public violence during a protest against the government. The activists had been handcuffed, tasered, beaten with truncheons, drugged, and later dumped naked near a river, according to rights groups.

The case against Coltart and Muchineripi was dismissed on Friday after state prosecutors conceded that the allegations did not amount to a criminal offense. The lawyers welcomed the decision and said they should have never been arrested in the first place.

“They were overzealous to arrest lawyers who were simply doing their job,” Coltart told AFP.

The incident was one of several cases of alleged abductions and torture of opposition members and critics of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime, which has faced mounting pressure over its handling of the economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Nations and several Western countries have expressed concern over the human rights situation in Zimbabwe and urged the authorities to respect the rule of law and the rights of citizens.

The Zimbabwean government has denied any involvement in the abductions and accused the opposition of staging them to tarnish its image and seek foreign intervention.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), a non-governmental organization that provides legal assistance to victims of human rights violations, said the dropping of charges against Coltart and Muchineripi was a positive development, but not enough to address the systemic problems in the justice system.

“The state must stop the harassment and persecution of lawyers and respect their professional duties and obligations,” the ZLHR said in a statement.

The ZLHR also called for the prosecution of those responsible for the abductions and torture of the activists and other citizens, and the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into the cases.

Despite the challenges and risks, the human rights lawyers in Zimbabwe said they would continue to defend the rights of their clients and the public.

“We are not intimidated by these tactics. We will continue to do our work without fear or favor,” Coltart said.

Source: Barron’s


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