HARARE – Police deployed officers in anti- riot gear at the High Court as dozens waited outside the court for prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa’s freedom from jail.
High Court judge Joseph Musakwa yesterday ended Mtetwa’s eight-day incarceration which had drawn local and international condemnation.
Mtetwa was arrested when she went to assist Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s chief legal advisor Thabani Mpofu, during a police raid on his Harare home on March 17.
She is facing charges of obstructing or defeating the course of justice.
During the raid Felix Matsinde, Mehluli Tshuma and former Harare City councillor Warship Dumba were also arrested.
The four are accused of possessing articles for criminal use, impersonating the police and contravening the Official Secrets Act.
They were all remanded to April 3.
Mtetwa’s arrest caught the ire of the international community as lawyers, civil society groups and politicians across the globe condemned the police action and demanded her immediate release.
Several solidarity messages, campaigns and petitions poured from all corners of the world, while police clashed with protesters who were advocating for her release at the Harare Magistrates’ Court last Friday.
Musakwa yesterday ordered Mtetwa’s release on $500 bail, arguing she should not have been denied bail in the first place.
Because of the large crowd gathered outside the High Court, Mtetwa had to use a back exit after
She defiantly told reporters that she remains unshaken.
“This is an attack on all human rights lawyers. I was just used as an example but the fight continues,” said Mtetwa after her release.
Delivering the ruling, Musakwa described Mtetwa as a “forceful if not combative personality”.
Mtetwa remained in custody after her arrest on Sunday March 17, with police allegedly ignoring High Court judge Charles Hungwe’s order for her immediate release.
Police subsequently took Mtetwa to the Harare Magistrates Court, where magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa denied her bail last Wednesday, arguing her release would promote anarchy.
Mtetwa’s lawyers then appealed against the ruling in the High Court.
Musakwa said Gofa based her decision on unwarranted “speculation” and said lawyers should not be denied bail unless there are special circumstances.
A veteran lawyer, Mtetwa has courageously defended human rights activists, journalists, opposition candidates and vulnerable women.
Musakwa said Mtetwa has been a lawyer for several years and if she was a commando, she would have taken no prisoners.
He quoted another High Court judge Chinembiri Bhunu, who described Mtetwa as an aggressive, tenacious and temperamental lawyer but professional.
Bhunu is quoted as having said this during the trial of 29 Glen View residents accused of killing a police officer in 2011. Mtetwa is the lead defence counsel in the matter.
Prosecutor Michael Mugabe, opposing bail, yesterday told the court that Gofa had not misdirected herself when she denied Mtetwa bail.
Mugabe said the manner in which Mtetwa intervened and asked for a search warrant during the raid at Mpofu’s house obstructed the police and led to the disappearance of computers that were targeted for seizure.
But, Mtetwa’s lawyer Thabani Mpofu said the demand for a search warrant was not made in the way expressed by Mugabe.
“She (Mtetwa) asked for the police to show her the search warrant which they did not do and have not done until today,” said Mpofu. – Tendai Kamhungira
Sunday March 17
Police arrest and detain Mtetwa as she attends to her client Thabani Mpofu, an official from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s office whose home was being raided by police.
Monday March 18
High Court judge Charles Hungwe issues an order for her immediate release after lawyers file an urgent chamber application in the High Court.
Lawyers take order to Rhodesville Police Station, where she is detained. Officers refuse to comply with the High Court Order at around 0230 hours.
Tuesday March 19
Endures third night in custody as Harare Provincial Magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa remands her in custody to Wednesday to allow the State, represented by Michael Reza, to make submissions.
Mtetwa’s lawyers say she is being treated “very badly” in custody.
They say on Monday two male police officers “visited” her cell at Rhodesville in the dead of the night and attempted to retrieve blankets from her.
They protest that police had not allowed Mtetwa to bath since Sunday.
Wednesday March 20
Gofa dismisses Mtetwa’s bail application and remands her in custody to April 3. Says the human rights lawyer would interfere with police investigations if freed on bail.
Thursday March 21
Lawyers launch a fresh bid for freedom for Mtetwa by appealing Gofa’s ruling. The High Court sets Friday March 22 as the bail hearing date before judge Joseph Musakwa.
Friday March 22
Musakwa postpones bail hearing to Monday March 25.
Monday March 25
Musakwa grants Mtetwa bail.