Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe is immune from prosecution for her alleged attack on a British photographer in Hong Kong, the government said yesterday.
The Department of Justice decided 43-year-old Grace Mugabe is entitled to immunity despite a police investigation that concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute her over the incident, including statements from two independent witnesses.
Richard Jones said Mugabe punched him in the face repeatedly after he took pictures of her near a luxury hotel on Jan. 15 while on assignment for the Sunday Times, inflicting at least 10 cuts with the diamond-encrusted rings she was wearing.
Mugabe was reportedly vacationing in the territory, financed by US$92,000 withdrawn from Harare’s central bank by her 85-year-old husband, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
Grace Mugabe, whose daughter Bona is a university student in Hong Kong, flew home to Zimbabwe before Jones reported the alleged assault two days after the incident.
Mugabe is exempt from prosecution under Chinese regulations on diplomatic immunity and privileges, the Department of Justice said in a statement: “Grace Mugabe is not liable to arrest or detention, and enjoys immunity from criminal jurisdiction.”
Jones and the Sunday Times said they were upset by the decision.
“This isn’t justice,” Jones told reporters. “If she came back to Hong Kong, is she allowed to attack people at her will and walk away scot-free?”
Michael Sheridan, Far East correspondent for the Sunday Times, called the alleged attack on Jones “an unprovoked criminal assault on the press.”
Law Yuk-kai, director of Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor, questioned if Mugabe should enjoy immunity when she wasn’t performing diplomatic duties.
“The journalist was just doing his job. He was ensuring the public’s right to know,” Law said.
Mugabe’s husband has been accused of overseeing his country’s economic collapse, trampling democratic rights and killing opposition supporters.
The US, the EU and Britain have imposed sanctions on Robert Mugabe’s ruling clique, including asset freezes and travel bans.
China has been criticized for supporting corrupt African regimes amid its growing presence there, including Sudan and Zimbabwe. Last July, Beijing, along with Russia, vetoed a US-sponsored resolution in the UN Security Council that proposed worldwide sanctions against Robert Mugabe and 13 officials.