By Professor Matodzi
HARARE, October 26, 2015 – The case in which Zimbabwean authorities are seeking to overturn the acquittal of prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa on charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice, suffered a false start on Monday after it was deferred to Thursday.
High Court Judge Justice Garainesu Mawadze was scheduled to hear a request filed by Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana seeking leave to appeal against the acquittal of Mtetwa, about two years ago, on charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice.
But Mawadze on Monday raised some ethical issues and deferred the hearing to Thursday so as to allow Tomana to brief another law officer other than Tozivepi Mapfuwa of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) who deposed to an affidavit arguing that Harare Magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa erred and misdirected herself when she granted the application for discharge filed by Mtetwa at the close of the State case in November 2013.
Justice Mawadze said it was improper for Mapfuwa to act as legal counsel for Tomana since he had deposed to an affidavit on behalf on the Prosecutor-General and hence he should appoint someone to represent him in the hearing of the application for leave to appeal against the acquittal of Mtetwa.
In the application which was filed in May last year and is only being heard 23 months after Mtetwa was acquitted, Tomana is arguing that the State had adduced evidence which established a prima facie case against the board chairperson of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights of hindering or disturbing police officers in the execution of their duties.
Mtetwa’s acquittal followed a high profile trial which drew local and international condemnation and which prompted the NPA in May 2014 to file an application seeking leave to appeal against the discharge of the feisty human rights lawyer in a bid to secure a conviction against all costs.
In the application, Mapfuwa of the NPA, who is representing Tomana, argued that Mugwagwa erred and misdirected herself when she granted the application for discharge filed by Mtetwa at the close of the State case in November 2013 as the State had adduced evidence which established a prima facie case against the human rights lawyer of hindering or disturbing police officers in the execution of their duties.
Mapfuwa charged that Mugwagwa erred and misdirected herself in failing to observe that the utterances allegedly made by Mtetwa were meant to disturb or hinder police officers in the execution of their duties. The State claimed Mtetwa said to the arresting officers: “Stop whatever you are doing, it’s unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic.” You confused cockroaches.”
Prosecutors also alleged that she further said: “Murimbwa dzaMugabe”, which the police translated to mean “You are Mugabe’s dogs.”
Tomana’s representative also claimed that Mugwagwa had erred and misdirected herself by failing to observe that the evidence of the first three state witnesses, who testified during the trial namely Luckson Mukazhi, Wilfred Chibage and Ngatirwe Mamiza, who are all police officers, materially corroborated each other on the aspect that the ZLHR board chairperson allegedly closed the gate at a residence in Westgate suburb in a bid to prevent Chibage from leaving the premises with some exhibits which he had reportedly recovered.
Mapfuwa argued that there are prospects of success on appeal.
At the time of the acquittal, ZLHR criticised the NPA for persecuting the human rights lawyer, who has defended several journalists and other human rights defenders targeted by the State.
Mtetwa, who has been honoured locally and abroad by human rights organisations and universities has represented and won acquittals for dozens of Zimbabwean human rights and political activists including Jestina Mukoko and former Energy and Power Development Minister and Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe leader, Elton Mangoma.The human rights lawyer has also represented local and international journalists and media organisations such as Radio VOP who came under persecution from the government.