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Zimbabwean Courts Show Signs of Independence with Acquittals
Photo Credit: VOA
The acquittal of human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa is a positive step for the rule of law in Zimbabwe and sets an important precedent for judicial independence in the country. Freedom House applauds the verdict and encourages the Zimbabwean government to end the legal harassment of civil society organizations and human rights defenders.
On November 26, a Harare magistrate ruled in favor of Mtetwa, declaring her not guilty on charges of obstruction of justice. The charges followed Mtetwa’s arrest in March for criticizing police officers during a raid of the offices of two of her clients, who worked for then-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. According to the judgment, Mtetwa did not interfere with police activities and the State failed to prove her guilt. Mtetwa’s arrest in March was part of a wider systematic crackdown on civil society, where nearly a dozen organizations had their offices raided and leaders arrested.
Tuesday’s verdict follows a similar ruling made last week where the same Magistrates Court exonerated Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum leader, Abel Chikomo, on charges of running an unregistered organization. Chikomo, who was charged under the Private Voluntary Organization Act, had been on trial since 2011, with the trial repeatedly postponed by the court.
While the independence of Zimbabwe’s judiciary still remains in question, civil society organizations are encouraged by rulings in favor of civil society activists and human rights defenders.
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