Zimbabwe rights lawyer, PM's aides denied bail

HARARE Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:13am EDT

Zimbabwe's Lawyers For Human Rights (ZLHR) Board Member Beatrice Mtetwa waves as she arrives at Harare Magistrates Court, March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Zimbabwe's Lawyers For Human Rights (ZLHR) Board Member Beatrice Mtetwa waves as she arrives at Harare Magistrates Court, March 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

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HARARE (Reuters) - A prominent Zimbabwe human rights lawyer and four aides of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai arrested three days ago were refused bail on Wednesday in a case that has drawn fresh criticism of President Robert Mugabe's security forces.

Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was arrested on Sunday and accused of shouting at and taking pictures of police officers who were conducting a search at the house of one of Tsvangirai's aides.

Mtetwa says the charges are fabricated. Her lawyer told the court the arrest was an attack on the legal profession the day after Zimbabweans voted for a new constitution that curbs the president's powers and expands civil liberties.

However, magistrate Marehwanazvo Gofa justified the decision to keep the five in custody by saying they would "continue to cause commotion and interfere with police investigations".

She also said Tsvangirai's aides were likely to abscond because they faced serious charges. They are charged with breaching official secrets laws, impersonating police and possessing "articles" used to commit crime.

The first offence carries a maximum 20-year jail term.

Lawyers for the five will appeal at the High Court on Thursday. If convicted, Mtetwa faces a $500 fine or a two year jail term.

(Reporting by Nelson Banya; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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