Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested after attempting to come to the aid of her clients, 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. She was instead 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 it appears that police are seeking to elude compliance with the order as reports indicate that Mtetwa is being transferred from one Harare police station to another as lawyers for Mtetwa seek to serve the court order on different police stations.
The arrest of Mtetwa and the four MDC-T officials is in itself alarming, but that it comes 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 characterized by harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and of impunity for Zimbabwe’s police and security sector, the promise of the new Constitution will be laid to waste.
The ICJ, Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and Southern Africa Ligitation Centre (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.
Arnold Tsunga, ICJ Africa Director, +27 73 131 8411; e-mail: arnold.tsunga(at)icj.org