The Committee to Protect Journalists has written an open letter to Zimbabwe justice and legal affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa, expressing concern about the arrest on Sunday of award-winning human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, and her subsequent detention by police in defiance of an order issued by a high court judge.
CPJ urges Chinamasa to ensure that the state immediately complies with the High Court order that authorized Mtetwa’s release.
Zimbabwe has a new referendum, but the situation remains tense as security forces, who remain loyal to the ruling ZANU-PF of dictator Robert Mugabe, continue to harass critical journalists, independent commentators and lawyers, and members of the opposition political party MDC led by PM Morgan Tsvangirai.
The media and law fraternity is waiting anxiously if Chinamasa will use his common sense, and act positively.
Here is the full letter:
We are writing to express our concern about the arrest on Sunday of award-winning human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and her subsequent detention by police in defiance of an order issued by a high court judge. We believe this invalidates the criminal proceedings instituted against her on Wednesday and constitutes an affront to the constitution and legal system of your country.
Harare magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa charged Mtetwa on Wednesday with obstruction of justice on the basis of police claims that she “shouted” at officers during their search of the residences of four members of the Zimbabwe Prime Minister’s party on Sunday, according to news reports. The magistrate also remanded Mtetwa to prison pending trial on April 3 on the basis of prosecutors’ claims that she was a flight risk and “might hinder further police investigations by causing commotion,” according to news reports.
The same day, High Court Justice Charles Hungwe ordered Mtetwa’s immediate release. But police defied the ruling and kept Mtetwa in custody in Rhodesville police station in Harare. Mtetwa’s lawyers have filed an appeal to the High Court seeking her release on bail pending trial. A hearing has been scheduled for Friday.
Mtetwa is a former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, and her contributions to the promotion of justice in the country include the defense of journalists. Mtetwa is the only non-journalist to be honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award.
In line with your mission to “uphold the Constitution and legal system of the State of Zimbabwe,” we call on you to ensure that the state immediately complies with the High Court order that authorised Mtetwa’s release. Such action under your leadership could restore the integrity of the legal system in Zimbabwe. We urge you to use the power of your office to guarantee the state’s compliance with the rule of law and due process and ensure the release of Mtetwa.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
*Photo by Desmond Kwande/AFP/Getty Images. Zim lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa in the middle.