Thursday December 11, 2003
"Human rights award for 'courageous' Zimbabwe lawyer " by Mark Oliver, The Guardian.
Beatrice Mtetwa, a fearless Zimbabwean lawyer who has defended those arrested by President Robert Mugabe's government, including a Guardian journalist, was named Human Rights Lawyer of the Year last night.
Judges at the Human Rights Awards in London paid tribute to her courage in fighting for human rights and press freedom in a dangerous country. In October she was taken into custody by Zimbabwean police and beaten up.
Mrs Mtetwa defended and won acquittal for the Guardian's former Harare correspondent Andrew Meldrum, when he was tried for "publishing a falsehood", a criminal charge carrying a jail term of two years.
She also won court rulings ordering the government to allow Meldrum to stay in the country but he was illegally abducted and expelled in May.
The award, from the legal and human rights campaigning group Justice and the civil rights campaigners Liberty, was presented to Mrs Mtetwa at the Law Society Hall.
The citation praised her "courage and commitment to human rights whilst working in an environment hostile to lawyers and the rule of law and her disregard to the risks of her personal safety".
Speaking from Pretoria, Meldrum described Ms Mtetwa as a "fearless" lawyer. "She has defended freedom of the press and the rule of law in Zimbabwe under the most difficult and dangerous of conditions," he said.
"It is a great honour not only for her alone but for so many other committed Zimbabwean lawyers who are trying to maintain their profession despite harassment and even violence."
After her beating by police she needed treatment for severe bruising and cuts to her face, throat, arms, ribcage and legs. Police had been called to assist her when her vehicle was attacked by car thieves but instead took her into custody for allegedly driving while intoxicated. "They said the tables have turned, you are no longer a lawyer, you are a suspect," Mrs Mtetwa said at the time.
Zimbabwe pulled out of the Commonwealth at the weekend after its leaders ruled that its suspension, imposed after allegations of election fraud and violence, should continue.
by Justice & Liberty