WASHINGTON DC —
A Harare magistrate on Tuesday discharged top human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa who was arrested earlier this year while representing an official who worked in the office of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and charged with obstructing the course of justice.
Delivering her judgment following an application for discharge filed by Mtetwa’s attorney at the close of the state case, magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa said Mtetwa had no case to answer.
The state was accusing Mtetwa of hindering the police from executing their duties when she appeared at the Westgate residence of Thabani Mpofu – an official who worked in Mr. Tsvangirai’s office during the life of the unity government – where detectives were conducting a search for subversive material.
Mpofu and three others are still facing charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act and impersonating police officers for allegedly investigating top government officials for corruption.
Court papers showed that Mtetwa, who allegedly called the police “Mugabe’s dogs” and took video footage that she threatened to leak to the international media, caused a delay that resulted in the removal of four computers from Mr. Tsvangirai’s offices in Avondale which the police wanted to seize.
In her ruling, magistrate Mugwagwa found that there was no evidence to suggest that Mtetwa caused the police to fail to perform their duties.
She also ruled that a forensic examination of the top human rights lawyer’s phone showed that she did not use her phone to take the footage. Assuming she did so, the magistrate said it was not an offense for anyone to take pictures.
A few seconds after the magistrate made her ruling, Mtetwa could not hide her joy and shouted “freedom, freedom, I’m free now”.
The prominent lawyer told reporters that she was being persecuted, adding that this has resulted in her failing to execute her duties.
“Of course I feel vindicated. This was a set up," she said. "I have since March been doing nothing but defending myself which means I have not been able to do work for a lot of my clients. So they have completely destabilized my practice, made sure my clients were not represented by the lawyer of their choice.”
Mtetwa said there was no need for her to be arraigned before the courts in the first place. This was supported by her attorney, Harrison Nkomo.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights say it is unhappy with the continuing harassment of human rights lawyers in the course of doing their work.
In other news, the National Prosecuting Authority has written to lawyers representing some MDC-T activists who were freed by the High Court on charges of allegedly murdering Police Inspector Petros Mutedza in 2011 advising that the activists can now collect their personal belongings that were being held by the police as evidence in the case.
Following their discharge in September this year, the police were not willing to release the belongings that included a motor vehicle.
Mtetwa is one of the lawyers representing the activists. Only six of the MDC-T activists were put to their defense on the murder charge by High Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu.
But the activists are denying the charges saying charges against them were brought for political reasons.
Amnesty International report
Her acquittal comes a day after rights watchdog Amnesty International said Zimbabwe had failed to end human rights abuses despite adopting a new constitution.
In a report, titled Zimbabwe: Agenda for The Government 2013-2018, Amnesty argued that the new constitution - which came into being in May - was supposed to enshrine democratic reforms and require the repeal of security laws used by supporters of President Mugabe to marginalize all political dissent.
Amnesty notes police raids on offices of civic groups viewed to be critical of President Mugabe's three decade rule continued unabated and is a form of intimidation. It said activists are arbitrarily detained and denied bail and then wait in jail for long periods until the courts dismiss the charges or the state abandons the case.
In the past, the police in Zimbabwe have defended their actions, describing the current environment in Zimbabwe as not ready for marches and demonstrations.