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Zimbabwe media lawyer free a day after arrest

We welcome good news from Zimbabwe today as authorities released Alec Muchadehama, one of many lawyers working in defense of persecuted journalists in that country.

A judge in the capital, Harare, granted US$100 bail to Muchadehama, a day after his arrest on charges of "obstructing the course of justice" in connection with a case involving journalist Anderson Shadreck Manyere. Muchadehama has to report to police every Friday pending a trial on May 28.

"He was released at half past 2 today," said Irene Petras, director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. She deplored a "clampdown on lawyers, particularly those defending people considered by the state to be enemies of the state."

Speaking to me today by telephone after spending a cold night in a 13-by-13-foot cell with eight other prisoners at Braeside police station, Muchadehama said he was well. "My spirits are very high because I know that I didn't do anything wrong," he said, adding that his arrest was consistent with a pattern of government intimidation against human rights defenders.

Muchadehama recounted his ordeal, which began as he was walking to his car from Zimbabwe's High Court on Thursday. He had gone to court to obtain a copy of the bail order in the Manyere case that day, but two police officers accosted him outside the building. The officers presented no warrant, according to Muchadehama, but told him he was under arrest for allegedly "conniving" with a court clerk to obtain a favorable ruling in the journalist's case.

Muchadehama categorically denies any improper contact with the clerk in question, Constance Gambara, who was thrown in prison with her nine-month-old daughter on criminal charges of "abuse of office."

Muchadehama's lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, deplored an "open season for people in legal profession." She called the month of May "a red month for the legal profession" in Zimbabwe. She was was detained and assaulted by police in May 2007, while fellow lawyer Harrison Nkomo was thrown into prison in May 2008. Muchadehama recalled spending three days in police custody in May 2006 in connection with a case involving members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
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