By Violet Gonda
20 March 2013
Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has again been denied bail and will remain in custody until April 3rd. Four MDC-T officials, including Prime Minister Tsvangirai’s legal advisor Thabani Mpofu, who were arrested at the same time as Mtetwa, have also been remanded in custody to next month.
Harare provincial magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa dismissed the human
rights lawyer’s bail application on Wednesday even though the High Court had ordered her release on Monday.
Gofa said Mtetwa would interfere with police investigations if freed on bail, although one of her lawyers, advocate Thabani Mpofu (same name with accused MDC official) had offered to surrender title deeds to one of Mtetwa’s properties. Mpofu said his client was a suitable candidate for bail as she had not committed an offence and had no criminal record to induce her to flee. The lawyers will appeal in the High Court for her release.
Mtetwa was arrested while attending to her clients – Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Mehluli Tshuma and councillor Warship Dumba , who are being charged with contravening a section the Official Secrets Act for allegedly receiving or communicating secret information; and sections of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act for alleged impersonation and for possession of articles for criminal use.
They are being accused of running an NGO and impersonating police officers in order to compile corruption and criminal dossiers against government officials, such as Local Government Minister Ignatius Chombo and Attorney General Johannes Tomana.
Mtetwa is being accused of obstructing the course of justice by insulting and shouting at police officers who were raiding her clients’ premises without a search warrant. But many shocked Zimbabweans took to twitter and Facebook to register their ‘disgust’ at the latest developments saying ‘only in Zimbabwe is a person denied bail for insulting police officers’, especially when a higher court had ordered the lawyer’s release.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Mtetwa had been ill-treated and humiliated in police custody on Monday. The group said two male police officers “entered her detention cell at Rhodesville Police Station in the dead of the night and attempted to remove some blankets that covered her.”
Mtetwa’s lawyers protested that the police had not allowed Mtetwa to take a bath while in police custody and also denied her relatives and lawyers access to her.
Speculation is rife that the feisty lawyer is being punished because of the work she does defending rights activists, journalists and political opponents. She has over the years been the chief defence counsel for many activists and it is suggested that this is part of a grand plan to stall her efforts. She is known to speak frankly and is not intimidated by the powerful state machinery when defending her clients, to such an extent that she is respected by judges and lawyers alike.
Mutare lawyer Tinoziva Bere said he is disappointed by the latest developments but is not surprised, as similar cases have happened in the past, as in the case of MDC minister and lawyer Eric Matinenga, who spent two week in jail in 2008 after the magistrate disobeyed two High Court orders.
He told SW Radio Africa: “This is to punish her beyond any proportion to whatever wrongs she might have done and they will continue for as long as they want. They did it with Farai Maguwu. Remember he was kept in jail for so long and afterwards he was found guilty of nothing. That’s Zimbabwe for you.”
He said the state won’t release her until they are satisfied they have punished her enough.
These arrests took place a day after the nation voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution and concerns have been raised about the fact that it does not matter how good a constitution is, if the people in power decide to ignore it.
Lawyer Brighton Mutebuka said Mtetwa’s continued incarceration, in defiance of a High Court order, only serves to emphasise the fact that not enough reforms have taken place to justify an election.
Bere said a new constitution will not change the failure of institutions of government in this country. “It is the change in the institutions of government which professionalizes them and makes them independent and free from partisan politics. It is only that which will transform this country.”
“So I am not excited about a new constitution. I am proud that I did not participate in that sham. I know that it is not just a piece of paper which will transform Zimbabwe,” Bere added.