Zimbabwe High Court frees on bail prominent lawyer

The High Court in Zimbabwe on Monday freed on bail Beatrice Mtetwa, a prominent human rights lawyer who was arrested last week while representing the prime minister's staffers.

Mtetwa was granted bail after an earlier bail attempt was thrown out by a lower court. She faces charges of obstructing the course of justice.

"The appellant should not have been denied bail. She is a practitioner of many years of experience," judge Joseph Musakwa told a packed courtroom which included Zimbabwean Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eric Matinenga.

Mtetwa was detained on March 17 during a raid on Morgan Tsvangirai's communications office as she tried to help Thabani Mpofu, director for research in the prime minister's office, and three other colleagues.

Prosecutors said Mtetwa hindered police investigations during the raid, which tarnished a widely-praised referendum on a new constitution held a day earlier.

They also alleged that three computers went missing during the raid.

The four other people who were arrested with Mtetwa and who have been charged with breaching the state secrecy code and impersonating the police remain in custody.

On Monday fellow lawyers petitioned the justice minister, police chief and attorney-general, condemning Mtetwa's arrest and harassment by police officers.

"Ms Beatrice Mtetwa was handcuffed, denied access to lawyers and relatives while in police custody," the Law Society of Zimbabwe said in its petition.

"She was denied bathroom facilities. In a brazen act of intimidation two male police officers entered her cell in the middle of the night in pitch darkness and snatched her blanket.

"The law society feels that these actions by the police are calculated to intimidate lawyers."

Police turned down the lawyers' request to stage a march to protest Mtetwa's arrest and detention, saying the process "has the potential threat of being hijacked by unruly political malcontents."