Police in Zimbabwe [BBC backgrounder] arrested a prominent human rights lawyer on Sunday, along with four other officials from the prime minister's political party. The arrests came just a day after the country voted in a constitutional referendum [AP report] calling for increased protections from human rights violations. Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa is being charged with obstructing or defeating the course of justice. The police were instructed to search the offices of Democratic Alliance of Zimbabwe for information about alleged crimes that were supposedly being illegally held. Witnesses said that Mtwetwa demanded that the police produce a search warrant before searching his suburban house for evidence. The arrested officials were held in custody on Sunday for questioning.
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 [JURIST report] the government of Zimbabwe to respect international human rights 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."