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Zimbabwe Court Acquits Human Rights Lawyer

FILE - Zimbabwe's Lawyers For Human Rights (ZLHR) Board Member Beatrice Mtetwa speaks to the media outside the High Court after she was granted a $500 bail in Harare, March 25, 2013.
A judge in Zimbabwe has freed a prominent human rights lawyer Tuesday who was facing charges of obstructing justice. Beatrice Mtetwa, the head of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, was arrested in March after she asked police raiding her client’s place to produce a search warrant.

The Harare Magistrate’s court granted Beatrice Mtetwa’s request to drop the charges saying state prosecutors did not present evidence to support their case against her.

The chairwoman of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has been out on bail since March when police accused her of interfering with their search of her clients’ offices - members of the political opposition. They arrested her after they claim she called them, President Robert Mugabe’s “dogs.”

Mtetwa - an internationally recognized champion of civil rights - has maintained that her arrest was politically motivated coming a day after Zimbabwe voted to adopt a new constitution.

Speaking outside the court Tuesday, Mtetwa said she was happy with the court’s move.

“Of course I feel vindicated. This was a set up," she said. "I have since March been doing nothing but defending myself which means I have not been able to do work for a lot of my clients. So they have completely destabilized my practice, made sure my clients were not represented by the lawyer of their choice.”

Amnesty International report

Her acquittal comes a day after rights watchdog Amnesty International said Zimbabwe had failed to end human rights abuses despite adopting a new constitution.

In a report, titled Zimbabwe: Agenda for The Government 2013-2018, Amnesty argued that the new constitution - which came into being in May - was supposed to enshrine democratic reforms and require the repeal of security laws used by supporters of President Mugabe to marginalize all political dissent.

Amnesty notes police raids on offices of civic groups viewed to be critical of President Mugabe's three decade rule continued unabated and is a form of intimidation. It said activists are arbitrarily detained and denied bail and then wait in jail for long periods until the courts dismiss the charges or the state abandons the case.

In the past, the police in Zimbabwe have defended their actions, describing the current environment in Zimbabwe as not ready for marches and demonstrations.