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Zimbabwe police arrest ruling party officials, top lawyer

Beatrice Mtetwa is accused of obstructing the course of justice.

Beatrice Mtetwa is accused of obstructing the course of justice.

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Police arrested the country’s most prominent rights lawyer and four senior officials with the prime minister’s party on Sunday, 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 ‘‘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.

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

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 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.

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