Zimbabwean lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has won a press freedom prize for her defense of journalists prosecuted under the country's tough media laws. The prize is given annually by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
The CPJ announcement of the awards describes Beatrice Mtetwa as a "tireless defender of press freedom in Zimbabwe."
Scores of Zimbabwean journalists who work for the private media have been arrested since the enactment of the draconian Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act in 2002, and some were beaten up. Independent journalists have been labeled enemies of the state, terrorists and sellouts by the authorities, and some have been hounded out of the country.
Ms. Mtetwa herself has also been a victim of abuse by the authorities. After the attempted hijacking of her car in 2003 the police she called for help turned on her and assaulted her. But the beating has not deterred her from carrying out what she sees as a duty.
"Media freedom should be a basic right anywhere in the world and where you have a government actively closing media space and also just actively trampling on peoples' rights you really do not think about the dangers you just think about the work that needs to be done," she said.
Mrs. Mtetwa's defense of journalists and newspapers has earned her the description "media lawyer," but she also handles other types of cases, including those regarding the constitution.
While the 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act is widely seen as posing a threat to mass media, only one journalist has been convicted under it. He is appealing that conviction.
Mrs. Mtetwa says the law is so badly drafted and the prosecution usually so badly prepared it is not difficult to find legal holes and obtain acquittals. But she also has praise for court magistrates."I have been lucky in that I have gone to magistrate court where there isn't as much politicization of cases as there is for instance in the High Court and in the Supreme Court," added Mrs. Mtetwa. "Even where there is political pressure to convict the state cases are usually so badly done that more often than not magistrates are forced to acquit the accused persons."
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists Secretary General Foster Dongozi paid tribute to Mrs. Mtetwa's bravery and said she is a worthy recipient of the award.
Mrs. Mtetwa will receive the award in New York at a ceremony in November.