PROMINENT lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa has accused Prosecutor General, Johannes Tomana, of hounding human rights defenders. Tomana’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is currently preparing a fresh legal battle against Mtetwa and has filed an application in the High Court seeking leave to appeal the acquittal handed to the human rights lawyer last November following an arrest earlier in the year.
In March last year, Mtetwa was arrested and charged with contravening the Criminal Law and Codification Act. This followed an altercation with police who were searching the home of a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) official, one of Mtetwa’s clients. Mtetwa was acquitted by Harare provincial magistrate Rumbidzai Mugwagwa in November, who said the NPA had no case against her.
The State had alleged that Mtetwa had shouted at the police officers to “stop whatever you are doing, it’s unconstitutional, illegal and undemocratic.” It was further claimed that Mtetwa had called the police “confused cockroaches” and told them that “you are President Robert Mugabe’s dogs.” The State had argued that the utterances hindered the police officers from carrying out their duties.
But in an interview with the Financial Gazette, Mtetwa, said there appeared to be a concerted push from Tomana’s office to arrest human rights lawyers. “I wouldn’t say that Tomana has anything against me personally, but against a certain class of persons like me. He has something against human rights defenders,” said Mtetwa.
“What is very worrying is that where there is a case involving his colleagues in (ZANU-PF) he has not taken those up. There is the case with Jane Mutasa and he appears to be protecting her right to the end.”
She was referring to a case whereby the NPA has refused to prosecute empowerment icon, Mutasa and her three alleged accomplices in a high profile case of company fraud. Mutasa who is a former board chairperson of Telecel Zimbabwe is accused of defrauding the company of US$750 000 via the sale of fraudulently acquired starter SIM-packs. She was jointly charged with her personal assistant Caroline Gwinyai, Telecel’s regional sales manager Charles Mapurisa and commercial director Naquib Omar.
Tomana’s office is citing lack of evidence as its main reason for not prosecuting and has also moved to block the complainant, Telecel Zimbabwe from proceeding with a private prosecution of the matter. In the current case, it is understood that Mtetwa will oppose the NPA’s application, arguing that Tomana has overstepped his powers and it was now up to the courts to rein him in.
“It is strange, but I am not surprised at this fresh onslaught. It just goes to show how dysfunctional that office (Prosecutor-General) is. A similar matter is pending in Alec Muchadehama’s case…you can therefore see that for the Prosecutor-General’s office, if they don’t get a conviction, they will not rest,” she added. Muchadehama, a crusading human rights lawyer, had been on trial for contempt of court and was acquitted in December 2009 at the close of the State case as the prosecutors failed to prove the essential elements of the crime.
He, along with a co-accused, had been on trial since June 2009 for allegedly facilitating the illegal release from Chikurubi Maximum Prison of two MDC-T officials and a freelance photo-journalist. Tomana appealed against the acquittal of Muchadehama, eight months after his discharge. The attempt to once again put Muchadehama on trial has also drawn the ire of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
In response, Tomana refuted the allegations and told the Financial Gazette that he has no scores to settle with human rights lawyers in the country. He said by discussing her case with the media and playing victim, Mtetwa was trying to sub-judice the case.
“It is a matter that is before the courts and we have expressed our position and given the courts a chance to relook at the matter. Why would anyone say we are hounding them? We are enforcing the law and doing our job,” Tomana said.
“How do I even hound someone when I am not the one arresting and doing the investigations? Law enforcement is not done for any individuals, but for maintaining law and order in the country”.
Meanwhile, Mtetwa has added her voice to the goings on in the MDC-T by expressing disappointment at the party’s failure to keep itself together. Mtetwa described as “sad” the unfolding events in the MDC-T that have degenerated into name calling, asset seizures and have now culminated into a pending legal matter.
“It’s really sad, it is so sad. Why do they have to go to court in order to settle these things? Did they go to court when they were forming their party back in 1999?” said Mtetwa.
“I am p*#-*d off that I spent 15 years of my life defending these people only for them to turn around and do something like this.”
Mtetwa is one of those lawyers who have represented the MDC-T in various battles over the course of its 15-year existence. The party has splintered into two groups — one led by party president, Morgan Tsvangirai and the other by secretary-general, Tendai Biti. The two factions are now set to take their fight to the courthouse after the Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Mudenda, said that he had no responsibility to adjudicate in the fight between the factions which are battling for legitimacy.
The Tsvangirai-led faction is pushing for the recall of Biti and 10 other legislators it claims have ceased acting on behalf of the MDC-T’s interests, but have formed their own separate party. The Biti faction has taken the moral high ground and insists that its decision last month to suspend Tsvangirai and six other top officials was meant to save the party from imploding after it had lost its moral compass under the watch of Tsvangirai, veering off towards violence, indiscriminate suspensions and dictatorship.
Each faction has welcomed Mudenda’s ruling, which was in fact expected by legal experts as they posited that Mudenda was unlikely to place himself in the firing line by having to pick between the two sides, a move which would have opened him up to criticism.
Maxwell Saungweme, a political commentator and scholar from the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa, said the two factions of the MDC-T had become a disgrace to the voters who once held high hopes that they would unseat President Robert Mugabe from power.
“You could compromise to share government with President Mugabe, your major enemy, because there was money to be made. But you cannot compromise and negotiate with each other, find each other and solve internal issues….shame.”