/ 20 March 2013

Rights lawyer Mtetwa and Tsvangirai aides charged

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.
Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa.

A magistrate on Tuesday ordered them all back into custody despite a high court order instructing the police to free the lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.

They were due to return to court on Wednesday for a ruling on their bail application.

Mtetwa, a top human rights lawyer, is accused of shouting at the police while she attended to calls for legal help when Morgan Tsvangirai's aides were arrested.

Thabani Mpofu, director for research in Tsvangirai's office, two subordinates and a senior party official were arrested on Sunday, in the wake of a key constitutional referendum.

The four are facing charges of breaching the official secrets code, impersonating police and illegal possession of documents for criminal use.

The state alleged they were preparing criminal and corruption cases against Zimbabwe's police chief, the attorney general and other senior government officials, including the very prosecutors handling their case.

Additional charges
Two of the premier's officers were former employees of the attorney general's office, while one of them was on suspension from the same office that was in charge of state prosecutions.

Mpofu is facing additional separate charges of failing to renew a firearm's licence and not keeping the weapon in a secure place.

Applying for bail, lawyer Alec Muchadehama complained that the four aides were arrested and detained unlawfully.

"These are good citizens who deserve not to stay in custody," he said.

But prosecutor Michael Mugabe opposed bail saying the four were facing serious charges, while prosecutors in Mtetwa's case opposed bail as well.

The arrests marred Zimbabwe's mostly peaceful constitutional referendum, which took place on Saturday.

The draft charter was approved by nearly 95% of votes cast. It curtails the president's powers and sets a limit of two five-year terms.

Tsvangirai is in an uncomfortable unity government with his arch-rival and veteran leader President Robert Mugabe, which will end with elections planned under the new constitution.

Reacting to the arrest of his aides and their lawyer, Tsvangirai told journalists that "this is the natural reaction of people who feel trapped, who feel they have lost power. These are acts of desperation."

Zimbabwe's police launched a series of raids to seize two-way and shortwave radio receivers, a policy that rights groups called a fig leaf for intelligence gathering and intimidation. – AFP