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HARARE, Zimbabwe - A Zimbabwe court Wednesday refused to free on bail the nation's top rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, who is charged with obstructing justice after her arrest by police Sunday.
The court ordered that Mtetwa should be held in prison until her next court appearance on April 3, but her lawyers said they will immediately appeal the ruling.
Mtetwa appeared in the Harare magistrate's court in prison uniform Wednesday after spending a third night in jail despite a judge's order to authorities to release her on Monday. Prosecutors said Wednesday that Mtetwa is a citizen of Swaziland and it is feared she might abscond before her next court appearance.
Her arrest, the day after a referendum vote on a new constitution that calls for stronger human rights, prompted an outcry from African and international law organizations.
On Sunday, Mtetwa was representing four officials of the Zimbabwe prime minister's party who were being searched by police on allegations of illegally collecting information on high level corruption.
Mtetwa is charged with obstructing justice for trying to give legal representation to the four officials.
Police say that Mtetwa shouted at them. Mtetwa says that she merely told police that they were violating her clients' rights by carrying out illegal searches and refusing to produce valid search warrants. The four officials were also denied bail Wednesday.
Mtetwa's prolonged period in jail is seen as a crackdown on critics of President Robert Mugabe. She has represented Tsvangirai and several of his top aides in past cases brought against them. She has also successfully defended journalists and human rights workers who were being prosecuted by the Mugabe government. She is the recipient of an array of awards from international jurists' groups including the American Bar Association.
Obstructing justice carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. - Sapa-AP