CPJ awardee Mtetwa faces possible arrest in Zimbabwe

New York, March 13, 2009–The Zimbabwean attorney general’s office should halt a baseless criminal investigation into human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Last week, in response to a reporter’s question, Mtetwa said she was unsurprised by a Supreme Court judge’s decision to deny bail to her client, deputy agriculture minister Roy Bennett, according to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Based on that comment, senior officials in the attorney general’s office told Mtetwa this week, the government was preparing a case accusing her of contempt of court.

“It’s hard to believe the attorney general’s office would spend its valuable time pursuing a case of this nature,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “Beatrice Mtetwa has an unflagging commitment to justice and would never do anything to undermine the rule of law in Zimbabwe.”

Mtetwa is representing Bennett, who is also treasurer of the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change, in a case alleging involvement in a plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe. Bennett, jailed four weeks ago, was eventually released this week on US$5,000 bail. 

Mtetwa, CPJ’s 2008 Burton Benjamin Award winner for lifetime achievement, has continually defended journalists and members of civil society against charges brought by the ruling ZANU-PF party. During a crackdown on the press that occurred amid presidential voting last year, Mtwetwa successfully defended many journalists, including New York Times reporter Barry Bearak and British freelance journalist Steven Bevan.

CPJ is also concerned about the ongoing detention of freelance photojournalist Shadreck Manyere, who was denied bail by the High Court last week. Manyere and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko were seized on December 13 and accused of banditry.