My arrest was a set up, says Zim rights lawyer
27 November 2013, 17:56
Harare - Zimbabwe's
leading rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was acquitted on Tuesday of charges of
obstructing justice and being unruly to police officers.
rights activists say the charges should have never been brought against her in
the first place and they charge the government has used such dubious charges,
jailing and court trials to hamper critics and opponents of long-time President
been on trial since June after she was arrested on March 17, a day after a
national referendum overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that enshrines
democratic rights. She was accused of using abusive language toward officers
who were searching the house of an official from the opposition party of former
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa on Tuesday declared Mtetwa not guilty citing that
there is no evidence of the charges against her.
free at last" Mtetwa said joyfully when she was acquitted. Fellow lawyers
in court cheered.
vindicated," she told reporters outside court.
her arrest and subsequent trial was a "set up" to prevent her from
representing her clients ahead of disputed July elections won by Mugabe.
of human rights
wanted to completely destabilise my practice," Mtetwa said.
When she was
arrested in March Mtetwa was held in jail for eight nights, during which time
police ignored a judge's order to release her. Her prolonged detention prompted
protests from African and international legal groups.
groups described Mtetwa's arrest as a sign of a heightened clampdown and
intimidation of human rights lawyers before the elections.
denied any wrongdoing saying she merely asked police for a search warrant after
they failed to show her one.
state alleged in court that she shouted "at the top of her voice",
saying that what police were doing was "unconstitutional, illegal and
claimed Mtetwa insulted the police officers calling them "imbwa dzaMugabe",
which means "Mugabe's dogs" in the local Shona language and
lawyer Harrison Nkomo said those allegations were trumped up against Mtetwa.
reporters the "state knew all along that she was innocent".
rights watchdog Amnesty International in a report titled "Zimbabwe: Agenda
for The Government 2013-2018," released on Monday said the Zimbabwe
government has failed to respect human and democratic rights guaranteed in the
nation's new constitution.
of rights activists
report said despite the new charter the Mugabe government has continued
intimidation and arbitrary arrests of civic rights groups and activists as well
as those viewed to be critical of the ruling Zanu-PF party.
unlawfully detained on spurious criminal charges and made to spend long periods
in jail waiting to appear in court after being unreasonably denied bail, said
the cases documented, the activists were acquitted or the state abandoned the
cases, or the cases are pending," the report said.
ruling on Tuesday, Magistrate Mugwagwa said the police had Mtetwa in handcuffs
and therefore she couldn't have interfered with their search.
the testimonies of state witnesses, there is no evidence she [Mtetwa]
obstructed their duties" she said.
the recipient of an array of awards from international jurists' groups
including the American Bar Association and the Committee to Protect Journalists
for a distinguished career of three decades.
represented Tsvangirai, Mugabe's main opponent, and several human rights
defenders and journalists.