SA varsity honours Zimbabwe lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa

Prominent Zimbabwean lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was yesterday awarded an honorary doctorate degree by a South African university for defending media freedom and human rights.

Beatrice Mtetwa

Beatrice Mtetwa

She was one of the only five honorary doctorate degree recipients at Rhodes University, who included Imtiaz Sooliman, the founder of Africa’s biggest charity Gift of the Givers.

Her recognition is the latest in as many accolades, but it comes amid renewed government threats to crack down on the media and critics of Robert Mugabe.

Mtetwa, a firebrand who often has had brushes with Zimbabwean authorities, has represented and secured the release from jail of many journalists and other high-profile individuals.

It adds one more feather into the cap of a 2005 CPJ International Press Freedom Award winner, whose illustrious career spans more than two decades.

Working in a country where taking on the government on human rights and media issues could attract severe reprisal, it’s only the brave ones who make it.

So it came as no surprise when the US state department saw it befitting to confer her with the International Women of Courage award in 2014.

Her successful defence of New York Times reporter Barry Bearak, charged for covering the 2008 Zimbabwe elections without state permission, stands out as one of the cases that propelled her into the spotlight.

In 2013, she was arrested for “obstructing police” while representing opposition political activists in a court challenge. But charges against her were later dropped by a Harare magistrate when prosecutors failed to provide evidence.

Meanwhile, the government this week sent a stern warning to media houses that were “disrespectful of the person of the president”, according to the state Herald newspaper.

This seemed to suggest there may be possible consequences for independent media portraying Mugabe negatively.

It follows a report carried by a private media publication which implied Mugabe appeared to have been dosing during a press conference in Japan. It referred to the conference he held this week with his Japanese counterpart Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

A video related to that occasion has gone viral on social media platforms, but Zimbabwean authorities are adamant he was simply “nodding” to Abe’s speech instead.

“This kind of gutter journalism resides on the social media platforms and should not be allowed in the mainstream media,” information minister Christopher Mushohwe was quoted as saying.

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