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THE CASE OF BEATRICE MTETWA
Ms Mtetwa has been internationally recognised for her human rights work in Zimbabwe, receiving a number of prestigious awards for defending Zimbabwean and international journalists in high-profile cases. She has already been brutally beaten by police on two occasions.
On Saturday, 16th March, 2013, Zimbabweans voted on a new constitution that will usher in political reforms and pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections, possibly in July. Mr Tsvangirai, 61, will then run against President Robert Mugabe, 89, in the election. Since the new constitution limits presidential powers and the expected elections will herald the end of the coalition government the two leaders formed after the 2007 election, tension has been rising in Zimbabwe. Ironically, the new constitution contains strong protection of the rights of those arrested and detained.
During a raid on the home of Thabani Mpofu, legal advisor to Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, Ms Mtetwa asked police to provide a search warrant and an inventory of confiscated items, and attempted to film the raid using her mobile telephone. This led to her arrest and formal charge of obstructing the course of justice. Mr Mpofu, along with three other employees of Prime Minister Tsvangirai: Warship Dumba, Felix Manditse and Anna Muzvidziwa, were also arrested, but charged with impersonating the police and running an illegal non-governmental organisation.
Ms Mtetwa suffered two beatings by police previously; the first in a car in 2003, and the second in 2007. Despite pressing charges, neither case came to court.
The illegality of Beatrice Mtetwa's detention points to how widespread and endemic the impunity enjoyed by police and the security sector is. It is also seen as a thumbing-of-the-nose at the people of Zimbabwe, who recently voted on new constitution that enshrines fundamental human rights.
17th March, 2013 - Beatrice Mtetwa asks to be shown a search warrant and when police fail to produce it, she tells the police that what they were doing is "unlawful, unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic". She is then arrested on charges of obstructing the course of justice. After several hours waiting in the Law and Order section at Harare Central police station, she is warned and cautioned and a statement is recorded in which she is charged with defeating and/or obstructing the course of justice under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act – section 184(1)(g). Despite earlier promises by the police to release her into the custody of her lawyers, she is detained in cells at Rhodesville police station at around 17:30 hrs. During the night, two male police officers enter her cell and attempt to remove her blankets.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which represent Beatrice Mtetwa, file an Urgent Chamber Application in the High Court and obtain, from Justice Charles Hungwe, a provisional order granting her immediate release. The order is served on the Rhodesville police station at around 02:30 hrs; however the police refuse to comply with it. The Investigating Officer Detective Assistant Inspector Mirimbo and Superintendent Mukazhi, who ordered the arrest, similarly ignore it.
18th March, 2013 - 09:30 hrs, Beatrice Mtetwa is taken to the Law and Order section at Harare Central police station. At around 11:00 hrs, she is driven back to Rhodesville police station by Detective Assistant Inspector Phiri and about 5 other details. The police appear to have adopted the tactic of transferring Beatrice Mtetwa from one police station to another in order to avoid compliance with the court order. The state files an opposing affidavit, stating that Beatrice Mtetwa's arrest was lawful. Four other legal groups - including the International Commission of Jurists and the Pan African Lawyers Union - condemn her detention.
19th March, 2013 - The police take Beatrice Mtetwa to court on charges of obstructing justice. In court, state prosecutors allege the four employees of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office arrested on Sunday, were compiling information to discredit Zimbabwe’s judicial officials for allegedly not prosecuting corrupt politicians. High Court judge, Justice Ben Hlathwayo dismisses the application for Beatrice Mtetwa's release and adjourns the hearing. Beatrice Mtetwa is denied access to her family and is denied a bath while in police custody.
20th March, 2013 - Beatrice Mtetwa is denied bail by Harare Provincial Magistrate, Marehwanazvo Gofa. The application for bail is opposed by state prosecutors Michael Reza and Michael Mugabe and is dismissed on the ground that the human rights lawyer would interfere with police investigations if freed on bail. Provincial Magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa also refuses bail to Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Councillor Warship Dumba and Mehluli Tshuma, who are charged with contravening Section 4 of Official Secrets Act for allegedly receiving or communicating secret information, Section 179 (1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) for alleged impersonation and Section 40 (1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for possession of articles for criminal use. Additionally, Thabani Mpofu’s application for bail is dismissed on charges of contravening Section 4 (1) of the Firearms Act for allegedly failing to renew a firearm certificate and Section 28 (2) of the Firearms Act for allegedly keeping a firearm in a non-secure place. All are remanded in custody until 3rd April, 2013.
25th March, 2013 - After international exposure and pressure, Beatrice Mtetwa is released from jail on $500 bail.
July, 2013 - Beatrice Mtetwa is tried for obstructing the course of justice. Zimbabwe's general election is to be held on 31st July, and Mtetwa sees her arrest and trial as an attempt to intimidate lawyers to deter their involvement in political issues from a legal perspective. If convicted, Mtetwa could be jailed for two years.
November, 2013 - Beatrice Mtetwa is acquitted.