via Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights | SW Radio Africa Press Statement 26 November 2013
IN ZIMBABWE, JUSTICE CARRIES THE DAY AS MAGISTRATE SETS HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER MTETWA FREE
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) welcomes today’s discharge of Beatrice Mtetwa on spurious charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice leveled against the human rights lawyer in March 2013.
On Tuesday 26 November 2013, Harare Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa freed Mtetwa, the ZLHR board chairperson after ruling that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), led by Tawanda Zvekare, had failed to establish a prima facie case against the award winning human rights lawyer.
Eight months after her arrest, Mtetwa was discharged at the close of the State’s case and found not guilty of the offences which she was alleged to have committed.
Mtetwa’s acquittal once again vindicates claims by ZLHR that her arrest, arbitrary detention, and long-drawn-out trial were tools of persecution rather than prosecution.
Magistrate Mugwagwa’s ruling- which laid into the State’s evidence and its failure to realise the weakness of its evidence against Mtetwa- further confirms our unwavering belief that the police and prosecutorial authorities in Zimbabwe remain grossly unprofessional, partisan, and biased against human rights lawyers and defenders, whose rights they remain intent on violating.
The assault against Mtetwa – including her unlawful arrest, unwarranted detention and the time-consuming prosecution – has a chilling effect on the lawful activities of other lawyers like her, as the State is no longer able to assure the public that it is willing to comply with its constitutional and international legal obligations to protect the rights of accused persons and prosecute only where there is reasonable suspicion and/or evidence of criminal behavior.
Although ZLHR welcomes the late discharge of Mtetwa, we wish to register our protest against yet another proven example of the abuse of criminal prosecution powers by the NPA, and the continued waste of scarce taxpayers’ resources on such malicious prosecutions.
It is worrying that that Mtetwa was arbitrarily arrested while carrying out her professional duties and was punished before her trial even commenced through detention in police cells and at Chikurubi Maximum Prison. Some retrogressive forces sought to use scurrilous charges to soil the human rights lawyer’s good name and the more than 30 years of sweat she has put into building her reputation as a hardworking, professional and honourable lawyer. During the State sponsored tribulations, Mtetwa – a woman human rights defender whose entire adult life has been committed to Zimbabwe and its citizens – was subjected to some shocking toxic levels of xenophobic attack through the State-run and some partisan media.
It was not necessary for Mtetwa to waste and sacrifice so many hours, days, weeks and months and above all a livelihood in court for a malicious prosecution.
We are vindicated in holding that Mtetwa was used to warn other dedicated human rights lawyers not to pursue the critical and thankless work human rights lawyers must do for the promotion and protection of human rights so as to foster a culture of human rights in Zimbabwe.
The escalating phenomenon of arbitrary arrests, detention, harassment and malicious prosecutions makes it necessary for ZLHR to call, once again upon:
The Zimbabwe Republic Police and other state agents to cease their practice of arbitrarily arresting professional legal practitioners and other human rights defenders without carrying out meticulous investigations in contravention of constitutional and other legislative safeguards preventing such action, and to comply with the legal requirement to have a reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed before arresting an individual.
The NPA to professionally perform its function of providing correct and timely legal advice where it is clear that their clients are not complying with the law, and to ensure that they disprove the reasonable perception that they are complicit in allowing such prosecutions to continue where there is no evidence to sustain the charges.
Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee the independence of lawyers and the need that lawyers be enabled to represent their clients without any harassment, intimidation or interference or being identified with the cause of their clients.
ZLHR truly hopes that today’s developments will cause the authorities, including the police and the NPA to pause, reflect on their muddled behaviour, and recommit themselves to a new and responsible manner of fulfilling their constitutional obligations. This must include refraining from selective application of the law; respecting the rights of accused persons; not prosecuting where evidence does not exist or has to be manufactured; and urgently attending to the prosecution of legitimate and critical cases of human rights violations where a litany of evidence exists to ensure successful prosecutions of real perpetrators of such excesses.
On our part, ZLHR will continue to act and speak out in support of every person wrongly arrested, detained and prosecuted and will not enervate to expose evil practices and the push for reform. We will not tire no matter how long we are embarrassed and persecuted and thus today we celebrate Beatrice for putting her neck on the line to do the right thing, regardless of the consequences. We are encouraged that even in the dark times when we feel that the torment will never end and we are all alone, there is always, always hope and there is always light at the end of the tunnel.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights