Incarcerated journalist Hopewell Chin’ono’s lead counsel Beatrice Mtetwa is being denied access to her client by prison authorities at the Chikurubi Security Maximum Prison, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) director Roselyn Hanzi has confirmed.
Hanzi told journalists Monday prison officers were misinterpreting a magistrate’s decision to bar Mtetwa from representing Chin’ono in court to apply to centres of detention.
“Basically, as you have been following and you understand, we have our lead counsel who was representing Chin’ono being denied audience by the magistrate courts,” said Hanzi.
She was after Chin’ono who is facing charges of inciting public violence, had been denied bail for the third time by a Harare magistrate.
“She is now being barred from even consulting with her client from prison. It appears that members of the ZPCS (Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services) are now interpreting that lack of audience in court to also apply to other places of detention and facilities.
“They are essentially stripping Chin’ono of his right to legal representation at all levels because, ordinarily, that ruling only applies to the lead counsel not representing him in court.”
Mtetwa was barred by Magistrate Ngoni Nduna from representing Chin’ono last week after he found her guilty of undermining the authority of the courts and becoming “emotional” about her client’s case.
Added Hanzi: “It is something that we are strategising as a team to see how best we can get that right to legal representation restored, we are likely going to approach the courts.”
Chin’ono has been in custody for about a month now on charges of inciting violence alongside Transform Zimbabwe (TZ) president Jacob Ngarivhume.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) has concern over the continued detention of Chin’ono saying journalism was not a crime.
“Very concerned about the continuous and prolonged detention of Hopewell Chin’ono. Journalism is not a crime, but crucial for any democratic society as journalists help curbing corruption and assist development,” the EU in Zimbabwe said in a statement.
The Dutch Embassy in Zimbabwe also raised concerns.
“Very concerned to see Chin’ono denied bail. When journalists and citizens are locked for speaking out, #FreedomOfSpeech dies and #Corruption thrives,” the embassy said.