High Court hears Mtetwa bail appeal tomorrow

HARARE - The High Court will tomorrow hear the bail appeal by award-winning human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa seeking her release on bail from Chikurubi Maximum Security Female Remand Prison.

The presiding judge, Justice Joseph Musakwa, on Friday said that the bail application filed by the defence team led by Advocate Thabani Mpofu was not in order as it did not include some records.

In their High Court application, Mtetwa’s lawyers Advocate Mpofu, Harisson Nkomo and Dzimbabwe Chimbga argued that provincial magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa seriously misdirected herself by refusing to admit Mtetwa to bail and that her ruling must be set aside on appeal.

Mtetwa’s bail appeal to the High Court will be heard tomorrow morning, and adds conditions that were not in the appeal turned down last week by the criminal court judge.

The lawyers proposed that Mtetwa should be freed on bail on terms that binds her to deposit $100 with the Clerk of Court at Harare Magistrates Court and not interfere with evidence and if need be enter into any such additional requirement as the High Court may deem desirable.

The case has captured worldwide attention. Mtetwa is not only a recipient of an array of awards from international jurists’ groups including the American Bar Association, but also defended journalists and human rights activists against prosecution.

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 Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party on Sunday.

Mtetwa is said to have shouted: “Stop whatever you are doing it’s unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic.”

 The provincial magistrate 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.”
 
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 then filed an appeal to the High Court seeking her release on bail pending trial. A hearing has been scheduled for tomorrow.

Prosecutors have opposed her release, asserting she is a flight risk.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has written to Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa expressing concern about the arrest of the award-winning human rights lawyer and her subsequent detention 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,” CPJ executive director Joel Simon said in the letter to Chinamasa.

Mtetwa, a former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, is the only non-journalist to be honoured 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,” the CPJ letter said.

“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.”

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and Zimbabwe Watch have also written to President Robert Mugabe and to the Zimbabwean embassy in Belgium and Netherlands protesting the detention of Mtetwa and demanding her immediate release.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe civil society leaders from the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the International Commission of Jurists and Human Rights Institute of South Africa (Hurisa) will be addressing a news conference in Johannesburg on Wednesday on the escalating crackdown on human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.
 
Police on Thursday dispersed demonstrators demanding Mtetwa’s release, with police and protestors clashing in angry scenes at the courthouse.

Critics say her detention is politically-motivated. - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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