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Illegal arrest and detention of Beatrice Mtetwa is alarming, says joint statement by African legal bodies
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and Southern Africa Litigation Centre

March 18, 2013

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) express their deepest concern at the unlawful arrest and detention of prominent Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.

Mtetwa was arrested after attempting to come to the aid of her clients – MDC-T officials, Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Anna Muzvidziwa and Worship Dumba. Mtetwa had sought to ensure that the search of the communications office of the MDC-T and the arrest of the four complied with legal requirements, demanding that the police produce a search warrant. Instead, she was arrested and charged with ‘obstructing the course of justice’.

Thereafter, she and the four MDC-T officials were taken to Rhodesville police station in Harare. Lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) worked late into the night of Sunday, 17 March, urgently petitioning the High Court of Zimbabwe to secure Mtetwa’s release. The order was granted just before midnight.

At present police are seeking to elude compliance with the order, transferring Mtetwa from one Harare police station to another to prevent her lawyers from being able to officially serve the court order. ZLHR are in the process of filing another urgent application to have Mtetwa’s continued detention declared to be in contempt of court. However, her legal team are being denied access to her.

The arrest of Mtetwa is in itself alarming. But coming on the heels of a referendum to endorse a new constitution which, whatever its other limitations, contains strong protection of the rights of those arrested and detained, is more distressing still.

Without a clear and unambiguous departure from a past characterised by harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and by impunity for Zimbabwe’s police and security sector, the promise of the new Constitution will be laid to waste.

The ICJ, PALU, SADC LA and SALC urge the Zimbabwean police and authorities to respect the Zimbabwean High Court order, to release Mtetwa from detention and to allow her and other human rights defenders to conduct their work unhindered.

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