Harare - Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on
Monday the arrest of his aides is intimidation by political rivals in the
run-up to general elections due later this year.
Tsvangirai is in an uncomfortable coalition government with
his arch-rival and veteran leader President Robert Mugabe - which should end
with elections after voters approved the adoption of a new constitution in a
referendum at the weekend.
"What we are seeing are signs of fear," said
Tsvangirai in a statement.
"The targeting of my office is reprehensible and is
meant to harass and intimidate the nation ahead of the election, now that we
are done with the referendum," he said.
Four of Tsvangirai's aides were arrested on Sunday in a raid
on the prime minister's communications office in Harare, along with a top
"These are signs of a police force that has become an
appendage of a political party, which is now showing signs of panic and fear in
light of the imminent prospects of losing the forthcoming election," said
Tsvangirai in reference to Mugabe's Zanu-PF party.
Meanwhile, the arrest of lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who was
held in police custody on Monday despite a judge ordering her release, has
drawn the ire of rights groups across the globe.
Mtetwa, a prominent figure in Zimbabwe who has handled a
number of top cases including previous raids on activists, was arrested on
Sunday morning as she sought to help Tsvangirai's aides during the raid on
Police said Mtetwa was detained for shouting at detectives.
A court ordered her release late on Sunday, but police
defied the order.
"She is still detained at Rhodesville police
station," lawyer Harrison Nkomo told AFP, adding that the police's
decision not to immediately heed that order was "a clear violation".
A group of Zimbabwean rights lawyers has filed a court
application to have the police held in contempt of court.
"The arrest of Mtetwa is in itself alarming," said
the International Committee of Jurists, Pan African Lawyers Union and groups of
lawyers from the southern Africa region.
"But coming on the heels of a referendum to endorse a
new constitution which, whatever its other limitations, contains strong
protection of the rights of those arrested and detained, is more distressing
They called for a "clear and unambiguous departure"
from past harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders.
Amnesty International said "the Zimbabwean police must,
without further delay, comply with the court order and unconditionally grant Ms
Mtetwa her freedom."
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said Mtetwa had
been denied access to her relatives.
The group's director Irene Petras said Mtetwa's detention
showed that Zimbabwe's police force had not reformed.
"We are vindicated in setting out what needs to be
done. These kinds of things need to be addressed."
Meanwhile the three Tsvangirai staffers and a party official
have not yet been charged and are still in detention.
They were accused of impersonating police officers.
Their lawyer Alec Muchadehama has filed an urgent court application
seeking their release, which has yet to be heard.
The arrests have tainted a referendum held on Saturday on a
draft charter expected to pave the way for new elections planned for July.