The United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) have raised the red flag over the alleged illegal deportation, arrest and persecution of opposition MDC Alliance co-principal Tendai Biti and called on Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee his safety after his bid to get asylum in neighbouring Zambia collapsed.
Biti skipped the border to Zambia on Wednesday, but the Edgar Lungu-administration denied him asylum and handed him back to Harare yesterday morning, despite a court order barring his deportation.
The former Finance minister, who is facing two counts of unlawfully and unofficially announcing results of the July 30 harmonised elections and another one of public violence, was yesterday granted $5 000 bail by a Harare magistrate with stringent conditions. His lawyers indicated that they would challenge circumstances surrounding his arrest today.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed concern over the decision by Lusaka to hand over a politician who has expressed an intention to seek asylum to his country of origin.
“Refoulement of forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law. The UNHCR calls on Zambia to investigate this reported incident urgently,” the UNHCR statement read.
The EU delegation, heads of mission of EU member states present in Harare and the heads of mission of Australia, Canada, and the United States, in a joint statement yesterday also condemned the targeting of opposition politicians in a post-election crackdown.
“The heads of mission of the EU, Australia, Canada and the United States are deeply disturbed by continuing reports that opposition supporters are being targeted by members of the Zimbabwean security forces,” the statement read.
“The heads of mission urgently call on the government of Zimbabwe to guarantee the physical integrity and safety of Mr Biti, to ensure that his constitutional and human rights are respected, and that he will be treated in full accordance with the rule of law.”
The EU has not publicly endorsed Mnangagwa as the winner of the July 30 polls, and in its preliminary report, poked holes into Zimbabwe’s electoral system with a comprehensive report expected in due course.
The British embassy in Zimbabwe also said it was monitoring the developments closely and had been in touch with both Zimbabwe and Zambia to seek clear assurance on the safety of Biti and the full respect of his constitutional rights.
United States Senator Chris Coons said the Donald Trump administration would hold the Zimbabwean government responsible for the safety of Biti and other opposition members reportedly detained by the President Emmerson Mnangagwa administration after the July 30 polls.
Mnangagwa controversially won the presidential poll with 50,8% of the vote, while his close rival MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa got 44,3%, a result he is disputing and ready to challenge in court.
Coons, a Democrat and member of the US Senate foreign relations committee, in a statement condemned the crackdown on civilians by State security agents, saying such practice had no place in a democracy.
“I am watching the situation in Zimbabwe very closely, and I am concerned about reports of arbitrary arrests, detentions, and government-sponsored violence. These tactics have no place in a democracy, and the government must ensure they stop immediately,” he said.
“Any disagreements over last month’s election should be dealt with through fair and open investigations, hearings, and legal processes. I am particularly alarmed to hear that members of the MDC Alliance have been detained by government-backed security forces.”
Coons said the arrest of Biti was especially unnerving.
“The US Senate will hold the government of Zimbabwe responsible for ensuring Biti and other detainees are not harmed in any way. I also call upon the Trump administration, the US State Department, the governments of Zimbabwe, Zambia and other regional actors to stand against politically-motivated arrests and to support and promote the rule of law,” he said.
Coons implored the Zimbabwean government to restore order in the country, arguing the people had suffered for a long time through acts of repression and Mnangagwa’s administration should signal a break from the past.
“It is not too late for the leaders of Zimbabwe to restore the sense of hope and fairness that its people deserve,” he said.
Meanwhile, in court yesterday, the State, led by Justin Uladi, did not oppose Biti’s bail and magistrate Francis Mapfumo ordered the former Finance minister to deposit
$5 000 at the Clerk of Court, deposit title deeds of one of his properties worth $200 000, surrender his passport, report twice a day to the police, continue residing at his given address, not to interfere with witnesses and not to address political gatherings or Press conferences.
Biti was dramatically arrested on the Zambian side of the border where he intended to apply for political asylum on Wednesday.
After a scuffle with Zimbabwean authorities at Chirundu Border Post, he was allowed to proceed to Zambia, but the neighbouring country refused to grant him asylum and handed him back to Zimbabwean authorities.
He arrived at the court in an unmarked Toyota Quantum omnibus, seemingly relaxed and immediately told journalists that he was in high spirits.
In the first count, the court alleged that on July 31, Biti held a Press conference in Highlands where he unlawfully and unofficially declared Chamisa as the winner of the just-ended presidential race.
The State alleged that Biti usurped the role of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), adding that they would use a video recording downloaded from YouTube to back their claim against the opposition politician.
On the second count, the State alleged that on August 1, Biti who was driving in the same vehicle with Jim Kunaka, a former Zanu PF youth leader, committed public violence when he addressed about 60 people armed with stones and sticks near Simon Vengai Muzenda bus terminus in the capital.
It is alleged that after Biti’s address, people went on the rampage and went on to destroy property at the Zanu PF provincial offices that included five vehicles and a bus. The State further alleged that after Biti’s address, the crowd went on to burn Mnangagwa’s campaign posters.
In court yesterday, Biti’s defence lawyers led by Beatrice Mtetwa were of the view that their client was abducted by the State and that they had serious issues that include assessing whether the he was properly brought before the court and placed on remand.
The lawyers are preparing a bruising fight with the State over the manner Biti was arrested and brought to court.
“He was not brought here in terms of the country’s extradition laws, Sadc protocol on extradition and he was not brought before the court in terms of the law,” Mtetwa said.
Scores of lawyers, diplomats and opposition supporters were in attendance.
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