Women changing the world pt. 1: Beatrice Mtetwa

Beatrice Mtetwa should be one of the first lawyers you think of when elucidating the world of intelligent fighters who reign at the forefront of protecting freedom of speech, freedom of the press and inherent to those, our basic rights to expression and calling out abuse when it happens.

All journalists whom consider themselves such, really should know who Beatrice Mtetwa is. Especially as, under the cover of the hype of pandemic coverage in2020, Beatrice once again became subject to the whims of exploitative power, being harassed by none other than the judiciary in the country that she practices in, Zimbabwe.

Who is Beatrice Mtetwa?

Beatrice Mtetwa is one of the world’s most successful and also at-risk* human rights lawyers in the world. Beatrice is a member of Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).

What does that mean in this context – ‘at-risk’? Well, in her role as a human rights lawyer, Beatrice has naturally represented many human rights defenders and opposition figures. As a result of this, she is also considered threatened and at risk constantly, because she is a target for intimidation and harassment herself for fighting against powerful figures who exploit and harm other humans.

Beatrice Mtetwa - Women changing the world

In the course of her career as a human rights lawyer, Beatrice has been assaulted, arrested, detained – and this year, she was harassed and barred illegally.

Why was Beatrice Mtetwa being harassed?

Front Line Defenders helped to bring light to this awful situation globally. You can download the press release and anti-harassment campaign here in full. We have reprinted some of that information here in this pull quote:

“On 18 August 2020, at a hearing to discuss the conditional release of detained human rights defender and journalist Hopewell Chin’on o, the magistrate Ngoni Nduna barred Beatrice Mtetwa from representing her client, who she has represented since he was detained on 20 July 2020.

Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono is currently detained at Harare Central police station and has been charged with ‘incitement to commit public violence’ in relation to posts he made on social media, calling on citizens to participate in anti-corruption demonstrations that took place on 31 July around the country.

The magistrate Ngoni Nduna ordered that Beatrice Mtetwa be charged with contempt of court in relation to comments about the case that were posted on a Facebook page. The page is run by a filmmaker who produced a documentary about the human rights lawyer’s work. The filmmaker has made several posts on the page stating she is the owner and author, and that Beatrice Mtetwa does not operate the page, nor has she ever posted on the page. The lawyers representing the State alleged that the comments, calling on the international community to speak out against Hopewell Chin’ono‘s imprisonment, were made by Beatrice Mtetwa.”

Front Line Defenders
fld campaign

If you are any sort of journalist, or even a basic user of social media who published their own opinion on public platforms – this kind of State-based behaviour should concern you deeply. Because, based on the same logical fallacy (formally, saying that because a piece of public of information about someone it must be necessarily written by the same someone, is a prime example of circulus in probando – a circular argument (and fake news at that!)) – you end up in a world where no-one is able to report of provide coverage of other people without eliciting fake accusations of self-portraiture. This goes far beyond censorship: it is suppression.

This kind of suppression, livelihood oppression and practice of falsely-founded allegation could clearly happen to anyone. It’s something that every one of us should care about; beyond Africa, China and North Korea, in all locations where we take freedom of speech for granted, and forget how lucky we are to do so.

Thankfully, the decision was overturned on 17 December 2020 – with magistrate Ngoni Nduna banned from participating in the trial of Hopewell Chin’ono.

Beatrice Mtetwa Should Be The First Human Rights Lawyer You Think Of When It Comes To Freedom of the Press

Beatrice Mtetwa has been fighting against injustice, torture, and the plutocratic imprisonment of journalists for over three decades. And in speaking truth to power – in the truest sense of the word, the journalists that she has saved from imprisonment and even more crucially – saving herself – became matters of huge diplomatic and human rights importance.

Beatrice Mtetwa Should Be The First Human Rights Lawyer You Even Think Of

(Not that there’s anything wrong with thinking of Amal Clooney first who in her own right is wonderful, but I am sure she would also, if not prefer for you, to think and remember Beatrice and her brave, relentless, ongoing fights against bullies who exploit their power, when namechecking some of the most uniquely inspiring women on our little planet.)

Beatrice is also a multi-award winning human rights lawyer – most notably, she is a winner of one of the most prestigious human rights awards in the world: The Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, or simply ‘Ludovic Trarieux Award‘. This rare prize is the world’s most renowned international human rights award. It is given annually to a lawyer for their reputation, contribution to the field and their achievements in the defence of human rights.

Watch a documentary from PBS (KCET) about Beatrice Mtetwa here.

Pledge your support with Front Line Defenders here.

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