Harare, November 26, 2013 – Prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa on Tuesday celebrated being set free from criminal charges brought against her by President Robert Mugabe’s administration and vowed to press ahead with assisting tormented human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.
Mtetwa was set free Tuesday morning by Harare Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwawa who discharged her on charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice as alleged by state prosecutors.
Mugwagwa freed Mtetwa, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) board chairperson after ruling that the National Prosecuting Authority had failed to establish a prima facie case against the award winning human rights lawyer.
Mtetwa told Radio VOP moments after her liberation outside Harare Magistrates Court that she felt relieved after overcoming one of her challenging moments in her life.
“I feel relieved. I am relieved that this madness has come to an end,” Mtetwa said.
Upon being acquitted by Magistrate Mugwaga, Mtetwa uttered: “Yeah, I’m free. Freedom”.
The feisty human rights lawyer had been on trial since June, where she was accused of contravening Section 184 (1) (g) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly defeating or obstructing the course of justice. She was arrested in March. Police accused her of obstructing the course of justice by allegedly interfering with a search conducted at the residence of one of former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s aides and at the former Premier’s offices in Harare.
But Mtetwa, who denied the charges challenged the prosecution stating that they had failed to adduce evidence that she committed the alleged offence of obstructing the police from carrying out their duties.
Mtetwa said her clients who are mostly vulnerable members of the Zimbabwean community including human and political rights activists and defenders had lost the most as they could not benefit from legal services as she spent most of her time defending herself against the spurious charges.
Meanwhile, ZLHR accused prosecutors of abusing the law to persecute Mtetwa.
In a strongly worded statement, the legal defence group said Mtetwa’s acquittal vindicates its claims 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,” the human rights group said in a statement seen by Radio VOP.