Beatrice Mtetwa’s arrest shows all is not well in Zim

March 21, 2013 at 1:33 pm Leave a comment

By
NICOLE FRITZ

Beatrice Mtetwa is paying the price of resisting authoritarianism – she is
spending her third night detained in a Harare police cell.

“You know this has to be done, somebody has to do it, and why shouldn’t it
be you?” That is Zimbabwe’s most prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice
Mtetwa’s matter-of-fact explanation for why she does the work she does.

Some might say that doing the same thing over and over – as Mtetwa does in
providing legal defence in virtually every high-profile, politically
motivated case in Zimbabwe – and expecting different results is the
definition of insanity. In the context of Zimbabwe, it is the price required
to resist authoritarianism.

At present, Mtetwa spent her third night detained in a Harare police cell,
ostensibly for “obstructing the course of justice”.

In fact, she sought to provide assistance to a client, Thabani Mpofu, a top
official in the prime minister’s office when his home was raided on Sunday
morning, demanding of the police that they produce a search warrant.

As Mtetwa explained: “The view I take is that [the police] have been
obstructing me in my duties as a lawyer. I have a client whose rights have
been violated, and I am unable to help him because I am now an accused
myself.”

More revealing than the arrest itself were the developments that followed.
Throughout Sunday police indicated to Mtetwa’s lawyers that she would be
released. Only late in the day, when it seemed unlikely that her lawyers
could secure an urgent court hearing, were they informed that police
intended to pursue the charges.

As it happened, her lawyers – Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights – were able
to file an urgent application seeking her release. The order was granted by
the high court just before midnight.

Her lawyers then attempted to serve the order on the various responsible
parties but were deliberately frustrated as police transferred Mtetwa from
one police station to another in order to avoid compliance.

As of Tuesday morning, having spent two nights in police detention, Mtetwa
remains in custody.

There are several aspects to note about the pedestrian illegality with which
the Zimbabwean police conducted themselves: firstly, this was not a raid
specifically directed at Mtetwa.

She was collateral damage – caught up in action directed at officials from
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office. There is no comfort to be drawn
from this fact. Were Mtetwa to have been a direct target, deemed a
sought-after antagonist, the police’s shameless flouting of the law might be
more explicable. That the illegality regarding Mtetwa was opportunistic only
points to how widespread and endemic the impunity enjoyed by police and the
security sector is.

Secondly, Mtetwa’s arrest comes on the heels of a referendum to endorse a
new constitution that, whatever its other limitations, contains strong
protection of the rights of those arrested and detained. Constitutions are
works-in-progress, to be given vigour and dimension by those who seek to
uphold and extend their protections. Mtetwa might have been relied upon to
breathe life into the new constitution. But without a clear and unambiguous
departure from a past characterised by harassment and intimidation of human
rights defenders and by impunity for Zimbabwe’s police and security sector,
the promise of the new constitution will be laid to waste – its protections
made impossible to realise.

Finally, Mtetwa’s treatment will not be unfamiliar to her. She knows well
the modus operandi of the police. Mtetwa has described the experience of
circling police stations on foot, calling out for her clients because police
routinely denied holding them in order to deny them legal access. Only last
week Mtetwa accompanied Jestina Mukoko of Zimbabwe’s Peace Project to Harare
Central after police announced they were staging a hunt for Mukoko on the
specious grounds of her running an “unregistered organisation”. In 2008
Mukoko was abducted by state security agents, tortured and detained for
several months. Mtetwa has herself been brutally beaten by police on two
occasions.

With Mtetwa in police detention, her court ordered release flagrantly
ignored, it is hard to imagine that anyone can credibly contend that, as
matters stand, there exist realistic prospects for free and fair elections
later this year. But if concerned observers outside Zimbabwe can afford such
enervating fatalism, it is not an option available to those inside Zimbabwe.

As Precious Chakasikwa of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights remarked: “For
every Beatrice Mtetwa that these state agents and institutions put behind
bars and attempt to embarrass, humiliate and punish without lawful cause,
there are 10 other human rights lawyers waiting to take up the mantle.” As
they must, if there is ever to be a different outcome.

Nicole Fritz is the director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: .

NCA PRESS STATEMENT ON REFERENDUM OF 16 MARCH, 2013 Mtetwa remanded in police custody until April

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