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Zimbabwe's top rights lawyer held

Zimbabwe's police have arrested the country's most prominent rights lawyer and four senior officials with the prime minister's party - a day after the nation voted in a referendum on a new constitution that calls for more protection against human rights violations.

Rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa is being charged with allegedly "obstructing or defeating the course of justice" and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's chief legal adviser, Thabani Mpofu, is accused of impersonating police by compiling dossiers on unspecified crimes, a police official said.

Ms Mtetwa was called to an address in Harare where police were searching an office used by Mr Mpofu and began "shouting at officers and preventing them from doing their duties," police official Charity Charamba said. She said all those arrested were being held for questioning.

Police had been instructed to search the offices of a private group, the Democratic Alliance of Zimbabwe, where it was believed some information on alleged crimes was being illegally held, she said.

Police removed unspecified "exhibits" for evidence against the group that they were engaged in police-type investigations, she said. Witnesses said computer equipment and mobile phones were seized.

Democracy and rights groups routinely gather witness accounts of alleged crimes and abuses of power in state institutions, including the police force, controlled by President Robert Mugabe.

Obstructing justice and impersonating police officers carry a penalty of imprisonment or a fine.

Witnesses said Ms Mtetwa demanded that police produce a search warrant at the suburban house used by Mr Mpofu. Officers accused her of trying to take photographs of a security detail on her mobile phone and she was forced into a police vehicle, the witnesses said.

Ms Mtetwa has won an array of awards from international bodies, including the American Bar Association and the European Bar Human Rights Institute, during her legal career of three decades.

She has represented Mr Tsvangirai and his supporters in high profile cases where she has accused police of the wrongful arrest and detention of Mugabe's perceived opponents without sufficient evidence.


From Belfast Telegraph