LSZ condemns Mtetwa's midnight visitors

HARARE - The Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) has condemned the midnight visit by two male police officers who snatched human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa’s blankets while in custody.

In a petition to the ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, Supreme Court of Zimbabwe, Attorney General’s Office and ZRP Central Headquarters in the capital Harare, the LSZ registered its “utmost displeasure” at the police conduct.

Mtetwa received the midnight visit while in police custody at Rhodesville Police Station despite a High Court order served on the police ordering her release.

Mtetwa was arrested at the scene of a police raid on her client’s home after requesting for a valid search warrant and inventory list for materials that had already been removed by the police.

The LSZ said there was a catalogue of failings by the State to protect human rights in the course of her arrest and detention and said the flagrant impunity of State agents continues to thrive in Zimbabwe.

The LSZ disapproved of the way Mtetwa, who spent a week in prison, was allegedly treated in police custody.

“Ms. Beatrice Mtetwa was handcuffed, denied access to lawyers and relatives, whilst in police custody,” said the petition signed by LSZ vice president Lloyd Mativenga Mhishi.

“She was denied bathroom facilities. In a brazen act of intimidation, two male police officers entered her cell in the middle of the night, in pitch darkness and snatched her blanket. As if all this was not sufficient, the police ignored a High Court Order requiring them to release Ms. Mtetwa forthwith. This was contemptuous of a High Court ruling and there is no better example of breaking the rule of law than this.”

The High Court released Mtetwa on $500 bail on March 25.

High Court judge Joseph Musakwa quashed an earlier ruling by a magistrate to deny Mtetwa bail.

“I am satisfied with the application by the appellant and I set aside the ruling of the (lower) court,” Musakwa said.

Mtetwa was arrested two weeks ago together with four aides of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. She was accused of shouting at and taking pictures of police officers who were conducting a search at the home of one of the aides.

The LSZ said the undisputed facts indicate that Mtetwa was attending to her duties as a legal practitioner.

The Bar Association said that the fact that Mtetwa demanded to see the search warrant which purportedly allowed the police to rifle through her client’s house and confiscate valuable items was not an aberration from best practice.

“A search warrant is a legal document whose validity can be challenged or which is capable of being abused...No proof that the warrant existed at the time it was requested exists to date.”

The LSZ alleged that the Attorney General’s office had appeared “to be complicity in condoning the police’s defiance of a High Court order” and that the Harare Magistrates’ Court had shown an “apparent abdication of its role to uphold the rule of law.”

“Lawyers are officers of the court,” the LSZ petition said.

“The Law Society is concerned with the apparent failure of the courts to protect its members. The Law Society feels that these actions by the police are calculated to intimidate lawyers. The actions smack of identifying lawyers with the cause(s) of their clients.”

Police also barred a protest march by the LSZ scheduled for March 25 that was intended to stand in solidarity with the award-winning human rights defender and former LSZ president.

The police claimed that the application by the LSZ did not meet the seven-day notice in line with section 25(1) (a) of the Public Order and Security Act (Posa).

“The march has the potential threat of being hijacked by unruly political malcontents as evidenced by the demonstration that took place at the Rotten Row Magistrates Court on Friday, March 22, 2013 where an unidentified group of people staged an un-sanctioned demonstration,” said a letter signed off by Officer Commanding Harare District Chief Superintendent Alex Chagwedera.

He was referring to clashes in which police dispersed protestors at the magistrates’ courts demanding Mtetwa’s release.

International rights group Amnesty International said Mtetwa was an “unfortunate victim of arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention”

“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,” said Noel Kututwa, Amnesty International’s Southern Africa director. - Staff Writer

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