Lawyers file petition against harassment and intimidation

The recent arrest of prominent human rights defender, Beatrice Mtetwa, smacks of an attempt by law enforcement agents to harass and intimidate lawyers who have the cause of their clients at heart, the Law Society of Zimbabwe has said.

In a petition copied to the joint ministers of Home Affairs, Theresa Makone and Kembo Mohadi, Police Commissioner General, Augustine Chihuri, the Chairman of the Judicial Services Commission, Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku and the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, the LSZ said Mtetwa’s arrest was driven by malice.

Mtetwa who was freed today by the High Court on $500 bail was arrested on Sunday 17 March and charged with contravening Section 184 (1)

(g) of the Criminal Law (Codification) Act for allegedly defeating or obstructing the course of justice.

She is facing charges of trying to block police from conducting searches at the house of MDC-T official, Thabani Mpofu, after she argued that the police search warrant was illegal.

Mpofu, together with three officials from the Prime Minister’s Office, Felix Matsinde, Warship Dumba and Mehluli Tshuma are facing charges of violating the Official Secrets Act.

They were on Wednesday last week denied bail by the Magistrates Court on the grounds that they are facing serious charges and are a flight risk.

It is the State’s case that the four were found in possession of illegal documents some of which detailed the background of Chihuri while others allegedly referred to the Attorney General, Johannes Tomana.

“Shouting at police officers, which in any event Mtetwa denies, as opposed to abusing officers, is not an offence. Demanding a warrant of search and seizure is not an offence. Taking photos of proceedings is not an offence.

“It is therefore incomprehensible that the above acts get criminalised based on an apparent need to silence her for her boisterous representation of her clients,” read part of the petition.

The LSZ said Mtetwa’s arrest was characterised by gross violation of her rights by the police.

“Even if the above was criminal, the subsequent events testify to the malice behind the arrest. Beatrice Mtetwa was handcuffed, denied access to lawyers and relatives, whilst in police custody. 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. Was this warranted at all?” reads the petition.

The LSZ expressed concern over the failure by the police to comply with a High Court order ordering the release of Mtetwa after her arrest.

“This was contemptuous of a High Court ruling and there is no better example of breaking the rule of law than this. At their pleasure, the police only took Mtetwa to court on Tuesday, having arrested her Sunday morning.

“This is a travesty of justice. The Law Society feels that these actions by the police are calculated to intimidate lawyers. They are intended to cow us and stop us from representing our clients without fear or favour,” read the petition.

The LSZ recommended that lawyers’ rights to represent their clients unhindered must be guaranteed and that the courts must be obeyed as the foundation of the rule of law.

In a related case, the Zimbabwe Republic Police has cancelled an application by the LSZ to stage a protest march against the arrest of Mtetwa.

In a letter addressed to the LSZ, ZRP Chief Superintendent Officer Commanding Harare Central District, Alex Chagwedera, said the notification period given by the LSZ did not conform with requirements of Section 25 (1) (a) of the Public Order and Security Act, Chapter 11:7 “which clearly stipulates 7 days notice”.

The ZRP argued that the march had the potential of being hijacked by ‘unruly political malcontents as evidenced by the demonstration that took place at the Rotten Row Magistrates Court on Friday 22 March where an unidentified group of people staged an unsanctioned demonstration”.

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