Beatrice Mtetwa is a noted Zimbabwean human rights attorney. She received the Bindmans Law and Campaigning Award from Index in 2006 for her efforts in protecting journalists arrested by Zimbabwe’s repressive regime, headed by President Robert Mugabe. Since receiving the award, she has continued in much the same vein and gone on to scale even greater heights – defending the human rights of Zimbabwean citizens at significant risk to her own liberty. Notable cases include defending, and securing the release of, two foreign journalists from The New York Times and The Telegraph in 2008.
In that case the two journalists, Barry Bearak and Stephen Bevam, were arrested in Harare as they attempted to cover the bitterly contested – and possibly rigged – presidential elections. The charges were based on the fact that they had practised journalism without being accredited – an act that did not amount to an offence under Zimbabwean law. Mtetwa was instrumental in securing the quick release of the journalists from an uncertain period of detention as political prisoners of the Mugabe regime. In 2009, she became the first African after Nelson Mandela, to receive the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize for her efforts at advancing human rights in Zimbabwe.
In her attempts to protect Zimbabweans from violations of the rule of law, she has also found herself at the receiving end of targeted prosecutions. Most recently, in 2013, she was charged with “obstructing justice” during a police raid. The state alleged that she made insulting statements to officers during the raid. The specific allegations in question? That Mtetwa shouted “at the top of her voice” that the raid was “unconstitutional, illegal, and unlawful” – statements that the court found did not warrant the charges that were brought against her.
Despite this arrest, Mtetwa has not been deterred from her indefatigable efforts to hold her government accountable. In 2016, she acted to secure the release of leaders of the war veterans association taken into custody by the Mugabe regime. She has also fought for and won several other critical human rights cases for people persecuted by the Mugabe regime.
With all the instability and uncertainty surrounding the rule of law in Zimbabwe, there is one constant. The world continues to watch Beatrice Mtetwa with admiration.
Tarun Krishnakumar is a member of Index on Censorship’s Youth Advisory Board. He graduated from the National Law School of India in Bangalore and currently works with a New Delhi-based law firm on public policy and regulatory affairs with a focus on technology.