Zimbabwe top rights lawyer's trial begins

AP News
Posted: Jun 10, 2013 2:42 PM

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The trial began Monday for a human rights lawyer who has defended political opponents of longtime President Robert Mugabe, as state prosecutors alleged she had obstructed justice and been unruly toward police officers.

Beatrice Mtetwa is accused of using abusive language toward officers who were searching the house of an official from the party of longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who is now Zimbabwe's prime minister.

Rights groups have described Mtetwa's arrest as a sign of heightened clampdown and intimidation of human rights lawyers ahead of crucial elections that are supposed to be held on July 31.

Mtetwa, who denies any wrongdoing, says she had merely asked for a search warrant from the police after they failed to show her one.

But the state alleged in court she shouted "at the top of her voice," saying what they were doing was "unconstitutional, illegal and unlawful."

State prosecutor Tawanda Zvekare claimed Mtetwa insulted the police officers calling them "imbwa dzaMugabe," which means "Mugabe's dogs" in the local Shona language and "confused cockroaches."

Defense attorney Harrison Nkomo said the charges are a ploy to "pin something" on Mtetwa who has represented several political opponents of Mugabe in previous lawsuits brought against them.

Nkomo claims allegations of insulting the officers were not brought against Mtetwa at her initial arrest in March and have been trumped up to make the state's case stronger.

"These utterances have been maliciously dreamt up by the officers . . . in order to make a non-existent case against her."

The defense on Monday further accused the state of trying to bolster its case against Mtetwa by sending Mugabe's feared secret agents posing as journalists to coax her ex-husband to "dish out any dirt on her".

State witness Luckson Mukazhi said Mtetwa used several "indecent" words spoken in the Shona language when she wanted to relieve herself during her detention.