Protestors, police clash

HARARE - Dozens of protestors thronged the Harare Magistrates’ Courts yesterday to stage a demonstration demanding the release of the nation’s jailed top rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.

Before the demo, anti-riot police swarmed the courts, while others were milling around at the Parliament Building.  

Waving placards inscribed “Free Beatrice now” and “what you are doing is illegal and unconstitutional”, the protestors staged the demo as the leading lawyer spent a fifth night in custody.

Baton-wielding police officers moved in on the protestors, easily breaking the demo.

The defiant demonstrators retreated from the officers, who were trying to wrestle the placards from them.

Some were man-handled in the subsequent melee while resisting arrest.

One of the demonstrators told the Daily News that the march was against the magistrates’ court which remanded Mtetwa in custody until April 3.

The singing mob chanted songs like “tichamira tichirwira nyika yedu naBeatrice (we will stand firm and fight for our country with Beatrice)”.

The defiant protestors clashed with police, resisting arrest and declaring that “hatisungwe namahobho” (we can’t be arrested by a guard) while some shouted “wakapusa unoshandiswa” (you are dumb you are being used) to the police officers who were trying to disperse them.

Earlier, the High Court had postponed Mtetwa’s bail appeal.

High Court judge Justice Joseph Musakwa told Mtetwa’s lawyer Chris Mhike to put his court papers in order before he could deliver a bail ruling.

 He postponed the matter to next Monday.

“The transcript of the court proceedings was not filed when we made our bail application because we got the transcript late in the day from the magistrates’ court,” Mhike said.

“However, we are going to file all the papers by the end of day so that on Monday we can resume the matter.”

On Tuesday, magistrate Gofa denied Mtetwa bail arguing that she was likely to cause commotion if freed.

The award-winning rights lawyer was arrested on March 17 on allegations of obstructing the course of justice amid police claims that she shouted at them when they were searching the home of her client  — Thabani Mpofu — a research director in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office.

She was arrested together with four staff members from Tsvangirai’s office, Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Mehluli Tshuma, Anna Muzvidziwa and former Harare City councillor Warship Dumba.

The PM staffers are facing charges of breaching the Official Secrets Act and impersonating the police and possessing of documents for criminal use.

After her arrest, Mtetwa’s lawyers filed an urgent chamber application at the High Court and the court ordered that Mtetwa immediately be released from custody.

But she was not released.

In her High Court application, Mtetwa’s lawyers argued magistrate Gofa seriously misdirected herself by refusing to admit the human rights lawyer to bail and that her ruling must be set aside on appeal.

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’ Courts and not interfere with evidence and if need be enter into any such additional recognisance as the High Court may deem desirable.

Mhike also said lawyers for the four PM staffers were also preparing to launch a bail application in the High Court where they are hoping that the matter will be heard next week.

There was a high turnout of lawyers at the High Court yesterday most of whom had come to show solidarity with Mtetwa — who is the former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe.

The arrest of Mtetwa has attracted the attention of the international community.

Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and Zimbabwe Watch yesterday wrote to President Robert Mugabe and to the Zimbabwean embassy in Belgium and Netherlands protesting the detention of Mtetwa.

“We are deeply concerned by the arrest of Ms. Mtetwa, the police’s refusal to comply with the High Court Order for her immediate release and her continuing illegal detention,” says the letter to Mugabe.

“These police actions not only prevent Ms. Mtetwa from performing her professional duties, they may also serve to intimidate other human rights lawyers representing their clients.

“We urge the Zimbabwean government to release Ms. Mtetwa immediately and unconditionally.”

The rights groups reminded Mugabe about the Zimbabwean government’s obligation to recognise the valuable role played by lawyers in a democratic society and to promote and support the work of lawyers in line with the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers. - Helen Kadirire and Chengetai Zvauya

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