Zimbabwe court orders immediate release of detained rights laywer

[JURIST] Zimbabwe's High Court on Monday ordered the immediate release of Beatrice Mtetwa, a prominent human rights lawyer who was detained for eight days for obstructing the course of justice. Mtetwa was arrested [JURIST report] on March 17 along with four officials from the party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [official website]. The officials are accused of illegally compiling information on high level corruption, while Mtetwa was accused of impeding police work by demanding to see a search warrant from police officers who were searching Tsvangirai's staff offices. High Court Judge Joseph Musakwa ruled that Mtetwa was following professional legal procedures when she demanded to see a search warrant. He also disputed the fact that Mtetwa obstructed justice. Mtetwa stated she believes her arrest was part of a ploy to intimidate human rights defenders prior to July elections.

Last week, Mtetwa was denied bail [JURIST report] after prosecutors argued that she may be a flight risk because she is a citizen of Swaziland. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] and other human rights organizations have said the arrest was unlawful [AI press release]. Zimbabwe has previously been criticized for its failure to ensure compliance with international human rights standards. Last month three UN independent human rights experts urged the government of Zimbabwe to respect international human rights [JURIST report] including privacy and freedom of association, in light of growing hostility toward civil society organizations. In the weeks leading up to the country's March 16 constitutional referendum [JURIST report], with a subsequent election to take place in July, "human rights experts have received increasing numbers of reports about acts of intimidation and harassment, physical violence and arrests against civil society actors, mostly working on human rights issues." In January Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that the unity government, established in 2009 after the 2008 elections resulted in violence, had failed to take the necessary steps [JURIST report] to ensure "credible, free and fair elections."

 

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