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Zimbabwe court denies bail for prominent rights lawyer

A court in Zimbabwe [BBC backgrounder] on Wednesday refused to grant bail to a prominent human rights lawyer who is charged with obstruction of justice. The court denied bail to Beatrice Mtetwa after prosecutors argued that she may be a flight risk [AP report] because she is a citizen of Swaziland. Mtetwa is accused of interfering with a police search of her clients' office, but she contends that she was only asking the officers to produce a valid warrant. Mtetwa was arrested on Sunday [JURIST report], just a day after the country voted in a constitutional referendum to increase protections against human rights violations. Human rights organizations including Amnesty International [advocacy website] have said that the arrest was unlawful [AI press release]. Mtetwa's lawyers have said that they will immediately appeal the bail decision.

Zimbabwe has previously been criticized for its failure to ensure compliance with international human rights standards. Last month three UN independent human rights experts urged the government of Zimbabwe to respect international human rights [JURIST report] including privacy and freedom of association, in light of growing hostility toward civil society organizations. In the weeks leading up to the country's March 16 constitutional referendum [JURIST report], with a subsequent election to take place in July, "human rights experts have received increasing numbers of reports about acts of intimidation and harassment, physical violence and arrests against civil society actors, mostly working on human rights issues." In January, Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] said that the unity government, established in 2009 after the 2008 elections resulted in violence, failed to take the necessary steps [JURIST report] to ensure "credible, free and fair elections."

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