One day after millions of Zimbabweans approved a new constitution that will bring about presidential and parliamentary elections later this year, prominent Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested after demanding a search warrant from police who were attempting to arrest her clients.
Police detained Mtetwa and her four clients, all officials of the Movement for Democratic Change, the party of Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, on March 17, 2013. She appeared in court two days later to answer charges of obstructing justice after Zimbabwe police ignored a court order to release her.
Mtetwa, who was described by the New York Times in 2008 as “Zimbabwe's top human rights lawyer”, has been targeted in the past by police and the feared Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), a secret police force which critics say President Robert Mugabe uses as a tool to suppress dissent.
Her arrest comes on the heels of a referendum in which nearly 95 percent of voters approved a new constitution for Zimbabwe. The new charter will see Mugabe and Tsvangirai face off against each other in elections expected this summer, marking the end of the pair's coalition government formed after disputed results in the 2008 elections led to violence.
Zimbabweans took to social media to express their dismay at Mtetwa's arrest.
@cchimakure: No joy yet for Beatrice Mtetwa. She is still in police custody despite High Court order. It seems rule of law is alien.
@DavidColtart: Well done Beatrice Mtetwa – many of years of consistent and courageous upholding of the rule of law. Amhlope! [congratulations]
@DavidColtart: It is very difficult to adequately convey the depth of my disgust at the ongoing detention of Beatrice Mtetwa…. http://fb.me/1tRXqejo2
@TrevorNcube: Sad that Beatrice Mtetwa has spent another night in custody for doing her legitimate work.A reminder that #Zimbabwe still far from normal
@Kudzi_Siphiwe: Really disturbed about Beatrice Mtetwa, even more disturbed by people who continue to defend the indefensible.
@KadomaKid: This Beatrice Mtetwa thing is now just getting out of hand , the cops need to perform better than this!
@MthandazoNyoni: where is th future of Zim if police officers do nt obey High court orders? they refused 2 release human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa
Blogger Sir Nigel observed:
We are well aware of the Machiavellian tactics of the law enforcement agents and other state institutions who have everything to fear from lawyers who represent their clients without fear or favour and insist on full compliance with the law and constitutional safeguards.
These retrogressive forces believe that such tactics will intimidate Beatrice and have a chilling effect on other human rights lawyers who continue to soldier on bravely in representing all manner of human rights defenders who have suffered serious rights violations. There is a misguided belief that by attacking lawyers, as well as their clients, positive forces who believe in a new professional way of behaving will be cowed, and civil society engagement in issues of human rights and democracy will be destroyed.