Four of Africa's most influential legal organisations have slammed the unlawful arrest and illegal detention of Zimbabwe's renowned lawyer and human rights activist, Beatrice Mtetwa - saying that they are 'deeply concerned' about the actions of the police.
In a joint statement, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), SADC Lawyers Association (SADC LA) and Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) said that the "arrest of Mtetwa is in itself alarming. But coming on the heels of a referendum to endorse a new constitution which, whatever its other limitations, contains strong protection of the rights of those arrested and detained, is more distressing still."
Mtetwa was arrested on Sunday after attempting to come to the aid of her clients - MDC-T officials, Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Anna Muzvidziwa and Worship Dumba. Mtetwa had sought to ensure that the search of the communications office of the MDC-T and the arrest of the four complied with legal requirements, demanding that the police produce a search warrant. Instead, she was arrested and charged with 'obstructing the course of justice'.
Thereafter, she and the four MDC-T officials were taken to Rhodesville police station in Harare. Lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) worked late into Sunday night urgently petitioning the High Court of Zimbabwe to secure Mtetwa's release. The order was granted just before midnight.
However, the police sought to elude compliance with the order, transferring Mtetwa from one Harare police station to another to prevent her lawyers from being able to officially serve the court order. ZLHR is in the process of filing another urgent application to have Mtetwa's continued detention declared to be in contempt of court. However, her legal team are being denied access to her.
Mtetwa's arrest is but the latest in a series of arrests of civil society activists and raids on their premises that are clearly part of a concerted campaign to intimidate critical individuals and organisations into silence ahead of the elections that are currently scheduled for July.
Her treatment has sparked worldwide outrage - not only because of her global reputation but also because she was arrested the day after Zimbabweans went to the polls in a constitutional referendum.
"Without a clear and unambiguous departure from a past characterised by harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and by impunity for Zimbabwe's police and security sector, the promise of the new Constitution will be laid to waste," said the statement from the four legal organisations, which called on the Zimbabwean police and authorities to "respect the Zimbabwean High Court order, to release Mtetwa from detention and to allow her and other human rights defenders to conduct their work unhindered."