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Monitor - Issue 185
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
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She has worked
as a lawyer for 31 years without breaking the law. But such an impeccable
record counts for nothing in Zimbabwe, where Beatrice Mtetwa is
rotting in jail for a week now for conducting her professional duties
as a lawyer.
What was supposed
to be routine work for Mtetwa turned into horror last week on Sunday,
with the prominent human rights advocate suffering abuse at the
hands of State security agents.
an indefatigable Mtetwa dressed in green prison garb and heavily
guarded by armed jail guards shocked the world as she appeared at
the Harare Magistrates Court. But more importantly, the photos underpinned
State security agents’ determination to crack the whip on
human rights defenders.
human rights defenders and organisations are in utter shock that
such a senior lawyer has ended up in jail for carrying out her professional
Mtetwa, an internationally
recognised human rights lawyer, was assisting Thabani Mpofu, an
official in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office, who
was under attack from the police.
Instead of getting
Mpofu off the hook, she ended being in the same, if not worse off
situation than her client in a bout of harassment her lawyer said
had left the legal fraternity in the country in fear. And what is
her crime? Asking about the legality of the police search on Mpofu’s
residence and the inventory of the material which was being taken
away by the police.
by handcuffing Mtetwa and bundled her into the back of a police
truck as the horror began.
Advocate Thabani Mpofu (not to be confused with Mtetwa’s client),
told the court that the police had treated her “very badly”.
police officers at Rhodesville Police Station could not allow her
access to relatives, friends and legal practitioners,” said
An order issued
by High Court Judge Justice Charles Hungwe ordering police to free
Mtetwa went unheeded despite lawyers serving the police with the
order in the early hours of Monday.
were having a time of their life harassing the celebrated human
As if she were
a trophy, police paraded Mtetwa in Harare on Monday and Tuesday,
where they moved her from one police station to another in an open
pick-up truck where she was bundled at the back.
This was just
the start. More abuse was to follow. On
Monday, during the dead of the night, two male police officers “visited”
Mtetwa in a cell at Rhodesville Police Station. They attempted to
remove some blankets that covered her, Advocate Mpofu told the court
leaving the public gallery in disbelief.
In the morning,
the officers barred Mtetwa from taking a bath. They blocked her
access to relatives, friends and lawyers, Advocate Mpofu said.
Her crime: Telling
police officers that their actions were “unconstitutional,
undemocratic and illegal.”
Now facing charges
of obstructing the course of justice, Mtetwa, a recipient of multiple
local and international professional awards, is paying for facing
up to a repressive regime, in a case which has sparked global outrage.
Demanding Mtetwa’s release, Amnesty International said she
was an “unfortunate victim of arbitrary arrest and unlawful
staggering that while Zimbabwe is in the process
of adopting a new constitution which provides a stronger bill
of human rights, lawyers in the course of their lawful duty are
being so blatantly harassed and intimidated,” said Noel Kututwa,
Amnesty International’s Southern Africa director.
He said Mtetwa’s
situation was “an attack on the legal profession in Zimbabwe
and in particular on lawyers who have fearlessly defended human
rights defenders and political activists”.
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