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Legal Monitor - Issue 185
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)
March 27
, 2013

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Mtetwa’s horror week

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.

Pictures of 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.

Lawyers and human rights defenders and organisations are in utter shock that such a senior lawyer has ended up in jail for carrying out her professional duties.

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.

Police responded by handcuffing Mtetwa and bundled her into the back of a police truck as the horror began.

Her lawyer, Advocate Thabani Mpofu (not to be confused with Mtetwa’s client), told the court that the police had treated her “very badly”.

“Some police officers at Rhodesville Police Station could not allow her access to relatives, friends and legal practitioners,” said Mpofu.

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.

Instead, police were having a time of their life harassing the celebrated human rights advocate.

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 detention”.

“It’s 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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