The ICJ and other legal groups have expressed their outrage at the continued detention of Zimbabwean lawyer and human rights activist, Beatrice Mtetwa, after she was denied bail.
This was despite the fact that Mtetwa was improperly held before the court after the police had refused to comply with a High Court order to release her, the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the ICJ said.
It is perturbing that the Police would use a lower Court, to undermine a standing decision of a higher Court, and that the lower Court would allow itself to be so used, they also said.
Moreover, it is absurd that Mtetwa, a lawyer of 30 years’ standing in Zimbabwe, could be denied bail on the basis that she would interfere with police investigations, they added.
While the ICJ, PALU, SADC LA and SALC have learnt with disappointment of the postponement of Mtetwa’s bail appeal hearing from the 22nd of March 2013 to the 25th of March 2013, they have faith that Mtetwa will be vindicated and released by the High Court.
The concerted efforts to keep Mtetwa behind bars represent a calculated attempt by sections of the Zimbabwean Government to break her spirit and deter her from representing the many Zimbabweans who daily face harassment and intimidation from the state’s security services.
Over the years, Mtetwa has stood by these victims of government and police repression and is regarded as a hindrance by the police and security sector to their illegal activities.
The action against Mtetwa is a threat to the legal profession in Zimbabwe – intended to alarm lawyers and intimidate them from providing independent representation.
As the country edges towards elections, the persecution of lawyers and other actors can only be expected to escalate, judging from the number of civil society representatives and human rights defenders who have fallen victim to police harassment in the past few weeks.
The police’s actions stand in marked contrast to calls by the most senior political authorities in Zimbabwe for peace and tolerance as the country moves towards elections.
That no heed is paid to these calls by the police force is indicative of the widespread and endemic impunity enjoyed by the security sector. It is the clearest indication that, as matters stand, there exists little prospect for free and fair elections.
The ICJ, PALU, SADC LA and SALC urge the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as the Guarantor of Zimbabwe’s Global Political Agreement and President Jacob Zuma as the mediator in Zimbabwe’s political crisis to take action and urge the Government of Zimbabwe to release Mtetwa from prison and end the politically-motivated persecution of her.
The legal groups also urge the African Union and the international community to prevail upon the Zimbabwean Government to release Mtetwa.
They also call on the police and the judiciary in Zimbabwe to discharge their duties in an independent and impartial manner if the people of Zimbabwe are to have confidence in the judicial system as the country moves towards elections.
Arnold Tsunga, ICJ Africa Director, +27 73 131 8411; e-mail: arnold.tsunga(at)icj.org