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Zimbabwe top rights lawyer, PM's aides charged

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Four aides to Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were on Tuesday charged with breaching the official secrets code as their lawyer was slapped with obstructing justice.

A magistrate ordered them all back into custody despite a High Court order instructing the police to free the lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa.

They will return to court on Wednesday for a ruling on their bail application.

Mtetwa, a top human rights lawyer, is accused of shouting at the police while she attended to calls for legal help when Tsvangirai's aides were arrested.

Thabani Mpofu, director for research in Tsvangirai's office, two subordinates and a senior party official were arrested on Sunday, in the wake of a key constitutional referendum.

The four are facing charges of breaching the official secrets code, impersonating the police and illegal possession of documents for criminal use.

The state alleges that they were preparing criminal and corruption cases against Zimbabwe's police chief, the attorney general and other senior government officials, including the very prosecutors handling their case.

Two of the premier's officers are former employees of the attorney general's office, while one of them is on suspension from the same office which is in charge of state prosecutions.

Mpofu is facing additional separate charges of failing to renew a firearm's licence and not keeping the weapon in a secure place.

Applying for bail, lawyer Alec Muchadehama complained that the four aides were arrested and detained unlawfully.

"These are good citizens who deserve not to stay in custody," he said.

But prosecutor Michael Mugabe opposed bail saying the four were facing serious charges, while prosecutors in Mtetwa's case opposed bail as well.

The arrests marred Zimbabwe's largely peaceful constitutional referendum, which took place on Saturday.

The draft charter was approve by nearly 95 percent of votes cast. It curtails the president's powers and sets a limit of two five-year terms.

Tsvangirai is in an uncomfortable unity government with his arch-rival and veteran leader President Robert Mugabe, which will end with elections planned under the new constitution.

Reacting to the arrest of his aides and their lawyer, Tsvangirai told journalist that "this is the natural reaction of people who feel trapped, who feel they have lost power. These are acts of desperation."

Zimbabwean police have launched a series of raids to seize two-way and shortwave radio receivers, a policy that rights groups say is a fig-leaf for intelligence gathering and intimidation.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130319/zimbabwe-top-rights-lawyer-pms-aides-charged