Right in the middle of a historical exercise, the holding of a Constitutional Referendum- something monumental had to happen. Merely a few hours after voting had ended, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) -in its unfathomable and incomprehensible wisdom-decided to arrest Beatrice Mtetwa. Previously I wrote about Beatrice in my Feminist Chronicles, having identified her as one of the most influential women in Zimbabwe, whose bright intellect and sharp and keen sense of reasoning was above many.
Given her history as a strong advocate for the weak, the defenseless and the vulnerable and also given her strong will to take on cases that many cowered away from, it is no wonder that she made it to the top of the regime’s WANTED list; a regime that is scared witless of its own population yet so boastful of its popularity.
The facts of the case…
Beatrice was arrested on the morning of Sunday the 17th of March 2013 in the line of duty, attending to her client Thabani Mpofu. Thabani’s home was being searched (read raided) by the police as they searched for what we have popularly come to know as “subversive material.” But who knows what that subversive material is; it could be anything from radios to smart phones to information packs, but a little bird whispered in my ear that Thabani was in the middle of putting together a dossier with evidence of corruption of some political big wigs, a job that the police believe is strictly theirs to do, hence the charges of impersonation leveled against him.
What is the law regarding search warrants
The Public Order and Security Act in Section 39 provides that the arrest or search of any person or premises shall be carried out in line with the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act. The Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act in Section 49 as read with Section 50 demands that the police may only search premises and seize articles suspected to have been used or intended to be used for the commission of an offence with a valid warrant of search issued by a magistrate or judge. Section 50 (4) of the Criminal procedure and Evidence Act states that a person whose rights are affected by the search can demand to see the warrant, AFTER THE POLICE HAVE EXECUTED THE WARRANT, and the police are obligated to produce such a warrant. As the legal representative of the accused, Beatrice had every right to demand to see the search warrant, but the question is did she demand to see the warrant before or after the police were done with their job?
Presumably, the answer is no and we can assume that she demanded to see the warrant during the search before the police were through with their search which is why the police then accused her of obstructing the course of justice. But given that, half the time, the police in Zimbabwe carry out arbitrary searches and seizure and arrests, any lawyer of character would do under the given circumstances what Beatrice did. This probably explains why Justice Hungwe, a judge in the High Court of Zimbabwe ordered her release.
However there remains no valid explanation as to why Beatrice remains in police custody despite the order for her immediate release. There is also no explanation as to why she has been moved from police station to police station since then in the typical fashion that the police have adopted to deny an individual under interrogation access to their legal counsel and/or relatives. This same tactic was employed against Jestina Mukoko and has been observed in many trends where political activists and human rights defenders have been arrested.
Is this arrest an end in itself or a means to an end?
A week ago IDASA launched the Democracy Index for Zimbabwe, an analysis of the state of democracy in Zimbabwe. In the Chapter on Political Freedoms and Democracy that I wrote, one of the questions informing the analysis was “How free are all people from intimidation and fear, physical violation against their person, arbitrary arrest and detention?” In my response, I explained that despite Constitutional guarantees for such freedom, the state continues to use its security apparatus to silence dissenting voices, targeting the few vocal and visible individuals to serve as an example and unleash a silent indirect threat to the rest of the faint and weak-hearted. So I would not be surprised if Beatrice’s arrest is just but another example of that.
When the process of writing a new constitution began, it ignited hope in many Zimbabweans that a new dispensation in which the rule of law would be restored was on its way. However during the whole era of the inclusive government that particular hope has been dashed and continues to be dashed. Could it be doubted that the arrest of Beatrice is a clear message to the few hopefuls that NOTHING has changed and won’t change. This form of intimidation will continue to be the order of the day even with a new constitution with a broader Bill of Rights.
The arrest of Beatrice Mtetwa could be a red herring. Don’t get me wrong, that is not to trivialise the enormity of what is being done here or what it means for women human rights defenders’ safety and security. But maybe those who instigated this arrest are drawing attention away from the Referendum, with the strange and ironic contradiction of voter apathy in city centres where people had access to the draft, to the press, to political commentary online about the contents of the constitution as compared to the high (if I may abuse the word -voluminous) turnout in the areas with citizens who had the least access to the media in the form of newspapers, radio and televisions. Were they saying, “YES we don’t know what’s in the constitution but we will vote for it anyway” or were they forced to say “Yes” or were they genuinely saying “YES we want the draft to be the new Constitution because we agree with its contents”? There is no prize for guessing which it is likely to be! But also maybe Beatrice’s arrest is targeted at drawing the world’s attention away from how a flawed process resulted in the flawed adoption of a flawed document courtesy of political parties’ turnabout from fighting for independence, freedom and democracy to POWER.
Maybe, these are just what they are-theories -but I shall not wait for history to condemn my silence where I could have spoken-and so I have spoken, standing in solidarity with Beatrice and calling for her release- as any law abiding Zimbabwean would.