In an article published on 14 April 2012 in the Post Newspaper of Zambia, Wynter Kabimba, Secretary General of the ruling Patriotic Front party, makes several defamatory and threatening comments with respect toward Mr. Robert Amsterdam, international lawyer to Mr. Henry Banda.
Specifically, Mr. Kabimba’s denunciation of Robert Amsterdam alleges that by performing his job as a lawyer for Henry Banda, he is somehow participating in a “criminal syndicate,” despite a total absence of substance to his claim.
Mr. Kabimba’s threats were preceded by comments made to the Post on 13 April 2012 by Government Spokesman Fackson Shamenda vaguely alleging “money laundering” and other baseless accusations of criminal activity concerning Mr. Banda’s retention of defense. These comments from Kabimba and Shamenda toward Robert Amsterdam are defamatory in nature and in violation of Henry Banda’s right to a defense.
These aggressive attempts to harass and intimidate defense counsel were preceded by a slew of defamatory attack articles published in the pro-government media.
In an editorial article published on 13 April 2012 in the state-owned Zambia Daily Mail entitled “Henry Banda’s lawyer offside,” the authors declare that Mr. Amsterdam is “ignorant,” has a “colonial mentality,” and that there is “no iota of truth in his claims” with regard to his statements in defense of his client, Henry Banda. The publication of these prejudicial opinions in the absence of any formal charges much less legal decisions place a bias on the court of public opinion and deny Mr. Banda his right to presumption of innocence.
Another attack article published in the pro-government newspaper The Post on 10 April 2012 denounces Mr. Banda as a “fugitive” despite absence of conviction and also accuses him of impropriety for having retained defense counsel. These repeated attacks from government officials, Patriotic Front leaders, and members of the pro-government media against Mr. Banda with regards to the retention of defense represent an attempt to deny his right to defense under Zambian and international law, including his rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Speaking from Washington DC, Mr. Amsterdam responded to the harassment by Mr. Kabimba and other members of the ruling party:
“The regrettable choice on behalf of the ruling Patriotic Front party and officials of the Zambian government to threaten and harass defense counsel should stand as a defining illustration of how the Henry Banda case is being handled: arbitrary, without grounds, in violation of due process and international norms, and driven by political motivation,” Amsterdam said. “By seeking to intimidate lawyers with patently absurd claims, aiming to prevent them from defending clients, the Zambian government is unlawfully violating Mr. Banda’s right to counsel.”
Mr. Amsterdam is deeply experienced in the advocacy of lawyer’s rights against harassment and intimidation by governments. In 2004, Mr. Amsterdam was arbitrarily expelled from Russia for defending a client seen as a political enemy of Vladimir Putin. At the time, the legal network Consulegis issued a statement in his defense, “Consulegis particularly condemns the expulsion of its member Robert Amsterdam from Russia whilst exercising his legal profession and hereby expresses solidarity with him.” Mr. Amsterdam also received numerous threats against his life for defending the victims of a massacre in Thailand. The Law Society of Upper Canada intervened on his behalf, issuing a statement declaring “As Thailand continues to strengthen its democracy, adherence to the rule of law and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, lawyers such as Mr. Amsterdam must continue to play a paramount role in that process and must be able to do so without fear of reprisals or harassment.”
Source: Zambian Watchdog