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Zimbabwe judge acquits prominent human rights lawyer

A Zimbabwean magistrate on Tuesday acquitted human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa [personal website] on charges of obstructing justice and being unruly to police officers. Mtetwa was arrested in March [Reuters report], and was determined to be a flight risk. She was denied bail, and has been on trial since June [JURIST report]. Officers claimed that Mtetwa called them President Robert Mugabe's [BBC profile] "dogs", and photographed them as they searched a the home of one of her clients. Mtetwa has spoken out frequently against President Mugabe, and has claimed that her arrest is a punishment for her politics. Mtetwa pleaded not guilty to the charges, claiming to have simply asked to see a search warrant when police arrived to search one of her clients. The case sparked international controversy, with human rights groups such as Amnesty International [official website] calling for the immediate release [press release] of Mtetwa.

Zimbabwe has previously been criticized for its failure to ensure compliance with international human rights standards. Earlier this week AI urged [JURIST report] Mugabe to protect human rights embodied in the country's new constitution [text]. In February 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 January Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said that the unity government, established in 2009 after the 2008 elections resulted in violence, had failed to take the necessary steps [JURIST report] to ensure "credible, free and fair elections."

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