3 Lawyers Jailed for Human Rights Work

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on October 19, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Going to jail isn't usually an occupational hazard for lawyers. At worst, lawyers in the U.S. only face the threat of being disbarred.

But if you practice human rights work, especially outside the First World, you might very well encounter threats of jail time on a daily basis. Here are three lawyers who endured persecution in the fight for human rights.

Beatrice Mtetwa in Zimbabwe

In 2013, human rights advocate Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested in the home of Thabani Mpofu, an official with the Office of the Prime Minister when police descended on the scene to conduct a search. When Ms. Mtetwa demanded to see a search warrant, the police denied her request . They also denied her an inventory of the items searched and taken.

The police confiscated computers, cameras, and other electronic recording equipment. Ms. Mtetwa was arrested alongside several other senior officials and was charged with obstructing justice. However, a high court overruled the sentencing court's decision that she be held without bail and she was later released. This is a hopeful note in an otherwise routine jailing of political dissidents in Mugabe's Zimbabwe.

Ms. Mtetwa's experiences are not dissimilar to other human rights advocates who have been jailed or detained for resisting Mguabe's authority. Government jailing of dissidents particularly a concern in countries where government power revolves around a small group of people or single person.

Zhang Kai in China

The United States has recently urged China to release human rights lawyer Zhang Kai while also expressing concerns over reports that the son of another human rights lawyer was placed under house arrest. In the State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report, John Kerry said Zhang was detained shortly after having met with David Saperstein, the U.S. Ambassador for international religious freedom. Unfortunately, his whereabouts are still unknown to Western sources.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that the matter is an internal concern and should be left to Chinese authorities. Saperstein cited Zhang's persecution as a growing trend of crackdowns on human rights advocacy in China.

China's persecution of human rights advocates has risen steadily ever since the Communist Party went after Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who was imprisoned in 2009. Recently, China has redoubled its efforts to crack down on human rights lawyers. It has represented the grand majority of human rights detainment controversies that have dominated headlines recently.

Buzurgmehr Yorov in Tajikstan

Tajik authorities arrested human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov in late September 2015 based on what sources claim to be fabricated charges. This is in retaliation for representing the opposition Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan.

Yorov is the latest in a number of lawyers who have become political prisoners in the country. A number of international human rights groups have acted including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and IPHR and have contacted Tajikistan urging the authoritarian government to release Yorov.

Tajikistan has moved aggressively to detain and jail a number of active human rights lawyers including Fayzinisso Vohidova in July 2015. She received text messages saying that her family would be killed unless she stopped her work.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard