By Professor Matodzi
Harare,October 23, 2015 – Prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa will on Monday return to court after Zimbabwean authorities launched a fresh assault on her by seeking to overturn her acquittal on charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice, a decision which was passed almost two years ago.
Mtetwa, the board chairperson for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), who was arrested in March 2013 and charged with contravening Section 184 (1) (g) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 for allegedly interfering with a search conducted by the police at the residence of one of former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s aides and at the former Premier’s offices in Harare, was acquitted by Harare provincial magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa in November 2013 at the close of the State case.
In setting free Mtetwa, Mugwagwa ruled that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had failed to establish a prima facie case against the award-winning and prominent human rights lawyer.
But prosecutor-general Johannes Tomana, who heads the NPA, in May last year filed an application in the High Court seeking leave to appeal against the discharge of Mtetwa.
High Court Judge Justice Garainesu Mawadze will on Monday preside over the hearing of an application filed by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) seeking leave to appeal against her acquittal about two years ago, on charges of defeating or obstructing the course of justice. 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.
In the application, Tozivepi 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.