Zimbabwe: good news comes in threes
They say good news comes in threes, so I wanted to share just that with you from our friends in Zimbabwe.
Human rights lawyer acquitted
On Wednesday, Beatrice Mtetwa was found not guilty of ‘obstructing the course of justice’. Beatrice is one of Zimbabwe’s top human rights lawyers. She was arrested in March and detained for 8 days after insisting police officers show her a search warrant as they searched the home of one of her clients.
Human rights NGO leader acquitted
Last Friday Abel Chikomo, the director of Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, was cleared of charges of running an ‘illegal’ organisation. He was first brought to court in 2011, and his trial had many false starts and postponements before being revived in the run-up to the July election. He’s consistently denied the charges against him, so must be extremely relieved to have finally been cleared.
Both of these cases highlight how unfounded criminal charges can be used to harass and intimidate those on the front-line, defending human rights.
Stepping away from the death penalty
The third piece of good news relates to the death penalty. In October Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new Minister of Justice, publicly criticised its use at an event organised by Amnesty International Zimbabwe. He told the audience ‘as someone who has been on death row myself and only saved by an ‘age’ technicality, I believe that our justice delivery system must rid itself of this odious and obnoxious provision. ‘
These are positive steps, but there is still much to be done for the new Zimbabwean government to improve its human rights record. The government will be judged on this record as well as its ability to improve the living conditions for everyone in the country.
What's next for Zimbabwe's human rights record
To help them do that, we have released a new report with recommendations for where they can make improvements. The new Constitution, passed earlier this year, is a good starting point, and we are calling for all laws that are not consistent with the Constitution to be repealed or amended.
This includes laws such as the Public Order and Security Act. It has been regularly used in the past to deny people’s right to peacefully protest and speak out in criticism of the authorities, including groups such as Women of Zimbabwe Arise
We want to see an end to the continued harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders – particularly NGO leaders who are prosecuted for work which is guaranteed under international law. Individuals such as Beatrice Mtetwa or Abel Chikomo should not find themselves in court for carrying out their legitimate work.
We are also calling for a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty. The statement by the new Minister of Justice is something we can take heart from and we will continue to call for an end to the death penalty in Zimbabwe.
Finally, one of Zimbabwe’s leading human rights defenders was in London last month and I had the privilege of meeting with her. Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), told me that international pressure played an important role in ensuring that this year’s elections in the country remained peaceful. Amnesty supporters in the UK played a big part in this, and it’s something we can be proud of.
Thank you for supporting the campaign this year.
Want to do more?
WOZA - Women of Zimbabwe Arise - continue to be targeted by the authorities in Zimbabwe and are part of our Write for Rights Campaign. Their founder Jenni Williams has called Amnesty her 'big sister', and our letters of support and solidarity are one of the reasons they feel able to publicly protest.
Send them a letter of solidarity - you'll find everything you need just below - and take our online action calling on the authorities to stop their persecution
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.