INTREPID human rights lawyer Beatrice Tele Mtetwa (54) will have her destiny with justice when she strolls into one of the 21 courtrooms at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts on Monday to defend herself against allegations of “defeating or obstructing the course of justice” as defined in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
Mtetwa was dramatically arrested on March 17 for allegedly attempting to block the police from searching the house of a senior MDC-T official in Westgate and
private offices of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the capital.
Police had allegedly received information the previous day that MDC-T officials Tabani Mpofu, Warship Dumba, Felix Matsinde and Mehluli Tshuma were unlawfully compiling criminal dockets in respect of prominent government officials.
Her arrest and detention for eight days was condemned locally, regionally and internationally and has since landed High Court judge Justice Charles Hungwe in trouble for ordering her unconditional release a day after she was nabbed.
If convicted, the internationally-acclaimed lawyer could be sentenced to a maximum two years’ imprisonment.
In this special report, NewsDay editor Constantine Chimakure retraces the arrest of Mtetwa and the State case against her.
State papers gleaned by NewsDay show that the Attorney-General’s Office has lined up nine witnesses, the majority of them being police officers, against Mtetwa, who graduated from the University of Botswana and Swaziland with an LLB degree in 1981.
Acting director of public prosecutions Tawanda Zvekare and chief law officer Michael Mugabe would be the trial prosecutors, while Harrison Nkomo from Mtetwa and Nyambirai legal practitioners would lead the defence.
The complainant is the State represented by Police Officer Commanding Harare’s CID Drugs and Narcotics section, Chief Superintendent Luckson Mukazhi.
According to the summary of the case against Mtetwa, detectives headed by Mukazhi raided a house in Westgate owned by MDC-T researcher Tabani Mpofu on March 17 armed with a search warrant. They were investigating a case of “possession of articles for criminal use” as defined in the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
The detectives, the summary reads, served Mpofu with the search warrant and were given the green light to rummage through the house.
“Having searched Tabani Mpofu’s house, detectives went outside his house in order to conduct searches on Tabani Mpofu’s five motor vehicles, which were parked in the yard.
As they were busy conducting their lawful duty, the accused person, Beatrice Tele Mtetwa, stormed into the premises shouting at the police officers on the top of her voice,” the State alleges.
“She ordered the detectives to stop whatever they were doing without ascertaining their mission. The accused did not even approach her client for instructions, she only started shouting at the detectives.
“She was so unruly such that her conduct even concerned her client Tabani Mpofu, who was under police investigation. Tabani Mpofu tried to persuade her to cool down, informing her that the situation was under control.”
The State avers that Mtetwa, without identifying herself to the detectives and knowing that they were executing their lawful duty, acted in a violent and disorderly manner and uncontrollably abused the police officers who were lawfully executing their duty saying ‘stop whatever you are doing, it’s unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic. You confused cockroaches’.”
Police officers, the State claims, stopped their searches and tried to calm Mtetwa by showing her a copy of the search warrant, but she didn’t take heed and shouted that “You people, do you know what you are doing? You are Mugabe’s dogs”.
Mtetwa, who came to Zimbabwe in 1983 after working in Swaziland as a prosecuting attorney, the summary reads, took some photographs/video footage using her Nokia E6 cellphone and threatened to send the information to the international media.
The commotion allegedly attracted people from surrounding areas who then gathered at Mpofu’s house, causing hindrance to the flow of traffic. Mtetwa allegedly closed the gate to Mpofu’s yard to block Assistant Inspector Wilfred Chibage, who was carrying recovered documents to a police vehicle that was parked outside the house.
Upon being informed by Mukazhi that she was under arrest for defeating or obstructing the course of justice, the State alleges, Mtetwa hid her cellphone from the male detectives by placing it into her bra, deleted the captured information and then surrendered it to the police.
From Mpofu’s house, Mtetwa was taken by the detectives to Tsvangirai’s private communications offices at 14 Bath Road, Belgravia, where they wanted to seize computers, laptops, documents, memory sticks, flash sticks and any other material relevant to their probe.
“The accused person conducted herself indecently by saying, among other things, to the police officers . . . I want to urinate, should I do it in here? and . . . meaning I want to defecate yet in truth and fact, accused person did not even intend to relieve herself as such,” the State alleges.
“The accused continued to shout at the police officers on top of her voice. Upon their arrival at 14 Bath Road, Belgravia, Avondale, Harare, police officers established that the computers which they wanted to recover had been removed from the offices.
“This was due to the delay in the execution of their duty which was caused by accused person.”
To buttress its case, the State will call Mukazhi as star witness. Assistant Inspector Chibage, Assistant Inspector Thabani Nkomo, Detective Sergeant Taizivei Tembo, Detective Constable Ngatirwe Mamiza and Constable Chido Chawanika would corroborate Mukazhi’s evidence-in- chief.
The State would call three staffers at Tsvangirai’s communications office, cleaner and caretaker Stembiwe Vera, computer technician Brian Mutusva and driver Zororai Mudariki.
Vera is expected to tell the court that on March 17, Mudariki and Mutusva came to the offices around 9am and asked her to open an office where they collected four computers from the communications department, which they loaded into a vehicle and left.
Mutusva would testify that on the day in question, he got a phone call from a senior member of the Prime Minister’s Office, Conrad Mwanawashe, around 8am to the effect that Mudariki was on his way to pick him up and that he should disconnect two Asus desktops and two Apple iMac computers from the Bath office and take them to the Premier’s office at Charter House.
“We were met at Charter House by Ian Makone (Tsvangirai’s chief secretary) who we handed the computers (to),” read an affidavit signed by Mutusva.
Mudaraki would in court narrate his transportation role of Mutusva and the computers.
Though NewsDay could not obtain Mtetwa’s defence outline at the time of going to print, the lawyer, who worked in Zimbabwe’s Attorney-General’s Office as a prosecutor from 1983 to 1989, in her warned-and-cautioned statement denied the charge.
“I deny the charge,” reads the statement from Mtetwa, who is known across the globe for defending journalists and human rights activists. “I attended the scene of the alleged offence in my capacity as lawyer for Mr Mpofu whose house was being searched.
“I asked for the search warrant and inventory consistent with the details of the search warrant.”
The 2005 winner of the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mtetwa added: “The police did not show me the search warrant and by the time of making this statement (1610hrs on March 17) I still have not been shown the search warrant.
“I deny that that I obstructed the course of justice in any manner or form. I equally deny taking pictures at the scene of the alleged crime. The police are in fact the ones who obstructed me in discharging my duties as a lawyer.”
Mtetwa has also received several awards from legal organisations. In 2009, the European Bar Human Rights Institute awarded her the Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize reserved each year to a lawyer who thoroughout his or her career has illustrated, by activity or suffering, the defence of human rights in the world.
Mtetwa also won the 2010 International Human Rights Award of the American Bar Association. In 2011, she was awarded the Inamori Ethics Prize by Case Western Reserve University in the US.
The firebrand lawyer has since 1989 been in private practice.
A gruelling legal battle is on the cards, with Mtetwa perceiving her latest prosecution as political and meant to silence her.