Beatrice Mtetwa, a tenacious lawyer who has won accolades for stubbornly defending journalists and others persecuted by Robert Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe, regained her freedom today after a hellish week that began on March 17 when she was arrested and charged with the criminal offense of “defeating or obstructing the course of justice.”
Police officers claimed she shouted at them while they were conducting a search of the homes of four officials from the prime minister’s office. Mtetwa said she was merely demanding the officers produce a warrant. A high court judge ordered her immediate release that day, but police stalled, keeping her in custody by transferring Mtetwa from one Harare police station to another to prevent her lawyers from being able to present the court order. It was disturbing to see one of Zimbabwe’s most pre-eminent lawyers in the back of a police pick-up or in a green prison uniform, and the outrage manifested in local, regional, and international solidarity, including demonstrations, protest letters and use of the hash tag #BeatriceMtetwa. In a public letter, CPJ appealed to the justice minister to ensure that the state comply with the judge’s order and set her free.
“As a result of you watching, making tweets, there has been a more careful handling of her case, we thank you for that,” Tawanda Zhuwarara, one of her lawyers, told CPJ last week.
This morning Mtetwa, who once endured a brutal beating at the hands of police, was as defiant as ever. “I will not be cowed, I was doing my job,” she said to reporters. No wonder high court Judge Joseph Musakwa, who released her on a $500 bail, said of her: “If she was a commando she would take no prisoners.”
Mtetwa, who is the subject of a new documentary, “Beatrice Mtetwa and the Rule of Law,” will have to go back to a magistrate court to fight the charges on April 3, Harrison Nkomo, another of her lawyers, told CPJ. But for now, she is free, with a new nickname: “commando.”