Zimbabwe: Prominent human rights lawyer must be released immediately

Prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa must be immediately and unconditionally released, Amnesty International said after she was denied bail in a court appearance today.

Mtetwa was arrested on Sunday, the day after a constitutional referendum was held in the country, when she responded to a client whose home was being searched by police in Harare. She remained in custody despite a High Court order for her immediate release being issued at around 1am on Monday morning.

Amnesty International’s southern Africa director Noel Kututwa said:

“Beatrice Mtetwa is the unfortunate victim of arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention and must be released immediately.


“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.

“Beatrice Mtetwa’s arrest and detention is an attack on the legal profession in Zimbabwe and in particular on lawyers who have fearlessly defended human rights defenders and political activists.

“The Zimbabwean authorities must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional duties without intimidation, hindrance, harassment and improper interference.”

Beatrice Mtetwa had responded to the call of a client, Thabani Mpofu, a staff member in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office, on Sunday morning notifying her of a police search of his home. When she arrived at the premises, police were already conducting the search.

She asked to be shown the search warrant and when police failed to produce it, Mtetwa told police that what they were doing was "unlawful, unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic".  Police arbitrarily arrested her accusing her of shouting and "obstructing the course of justice". Ms Mtetwa was handcuffed and detained in a police vehicle.

Following her arrest, Beatrice Mtetwa's lawyers obtained a High Court order for her immediate release on the grounds that the arrest was unlawful. Police did not comply with the order and she remained in police custody. During the night, two male police officers entered her cell and attempted to remove her blankets.

On Tuesday Beatrice Mtetwa was brought to the Magistrate’s Court in Harare, where she applied for bail. At the hearing Ms Mtetwa's lawyers reported that she was ill-treated while in custody.  She was denied access to her family and was denied a bath.

The hearing concluded today and bail was denied, meaning Beatrice Mtetwa has been remanded in custody until 3 April.

Amnesty International has observed an increase in attacks on the rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly in the run up to the referendum  which took place last Saturday, and ahead of Zimbabwe’s 2013 general elections, likely to take place in July.

To call for the elections to be free from violence go to www.amnesty.org.uk/zimbabwe

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