Leading human rights attorney Beatrice Mtetwa is possibly facing arrest in Zimbabwe this week as a “baseless criminal investigation” by the national attorney general’s office wishes to hold her in contempt of court, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Mtetwa is currently defending Zimbabwe Deputy Agriculture Minister Roy Bennett on charges that he allegedly plotted to assassinate President Robert Mugabe. The attorney general’s investigation sparked after Mtetwa made a comment to the press regarding the initial denial of bail for her client (he has since been released on US $5,000).
Mtetwa, a recipient of the 2008 Burton Benjamin Lifetime Achievement Award from CPJ, has defended numerous journalists in Zimbabwe from charges pressed by President Mugabe of the leading ZANU political party. Her current client, Bennett, is the treasurer of the opposition party MDC (Movement for Democratic Change). Thomas Rhodes, Africa Program Coordinator for CPJ, believes that Mtetwa is being targeted by the attorney general’s office for her advocacy of a member of the opposition party.
Rhodes tells CJR that Mtetwa is currently in London on a prior engagement, but is scheduled to return to Zimbabwe later this week. “She is prepared to assert herself,” Rhodes said. “She will face whatever the administration has for her.” Rhodes did express concern for her safe return, saying that he believes government officials followed Mtetwa’s daughter home from the airport after dropping her mother off yesterday. “They may be waiting for her [at the airport] when she gets back,” he said.
At this time, no formal charges have been brought about by the attorney general’s office, but CPJ is urging members of the journalism community to spread the word about the unjust persecution of Mtetwa. “Any negative press for the current administration may help the situation,” said Rhodes.