March 21, 2013
Hon. Patrick Chinamasa
Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs
The Republic of Zimbabwe
We are writing to express our concern about the arrest on Sunday of award-winning human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and her subsequent detention by police in defiance of an order issued by a high court judge. We believe this invalidates the criminal proceedings instituted against her on Wednesday and constitutes an affront to the constitution and legal system of your country.
Harare magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa charged Mtetwa on Wednesday with obstruction of justice on the basis of police claims that she “shouted” at officers during their search of the residences of four members of the Zimbabwe Prime Minister’s party on Sunday, according to news reports. The magistrate also remanded Mtetwa to prison pending trial on April 3 on the basis of prosecutors’ claims that she was a flight risk and “might hinder further police investigations by causing commotion,” according to news reports.
The same day, High Court Justice Charles Hungwe ordered Mtetwa’s immediate release. But police defied the ruling and kept Mtetwa in custody in Rhodesville police station in Harare. Mtetwa’s lawyers have filed an appeal to the High Court seeking her release on bail pending trial. A hearing has been scheduled for Friday.
Mtetwa is a former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, and her contributions to the promotion of justice in the country include the defense of journalists. Mtetwa is the only non-journalist to be honored with CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award.
In line with your mission to “uphold the Constitution and legal system of the State of Zimbabwe,” we call on you to ensure that the state immediately complies with the High Court order that authorized Mtetwa’s release. Such action under your leadership could restore the integrity of the legal system in Zimbabwe. We urge you to use the power of your office to guarantee the state’s compliance with the rule of law and due process and ensure the release of Mtetwa.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Rt. Hon. Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe
The Law Society of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA)
Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO)
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU)
Reine Alapini-Gansou, African Union Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
Alain Noudehou, UN Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator, Zimbabwe
Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ)