'Grave' concern over handling of Biti’s detention
Publish date: 10 August 2018
Issue Number: 4520
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Western governments and the UN yesterday expressed alarm after top Zimbabwe opposition figure Tendai Biti appeared in court after a dramatic attempt to flee to neighbouring Zambia and claim asylum – an attempt rebuffed by Zambian authorities amid international concern. The veteran MDC politician was taken handcuffed into a courtroom in Harare under a heavy police presence to face charges of public violence as well as the illegal declaration of election results. ‘We will keep on fighting,’ he said before being granted bail of $5 000. The Daily Maverick reports that state prosecutors did not oppose bail for Biti, which was set at $5 000. He was ordered to surrender his passport and title deeds to his house, and banned from addressing political rallies or news conferences until the case is over. Aware of the potential damage to Zimbabwe's image, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said he had intervened to ensure Biti was released. But he also said that Biti faced serious charges and that the legal process should be allowed to take its course. 'At such a crucial time in the history of the new Zimbabwe, nothing is more important than unity, peace and dialogue. I call on all parties to immediately cease from all forms of incitement to violence,' Mnangagwa wrote on his official Twitter page. Legalbrief reports that Biti attempted to leave the country on Wednesday after being accused of inciting protests by proclaiming victory for the opposition. A TimesLIVE report notes that the Zambian authorities rejected his plea for political asylum and handed him back to Zimbabwean police yesterday. Zimbabwe Republic Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) said Biti and his travelling party ‘resisted’ arrest. ‘The accused person and his associates were approached and he strongly resisted arrest arguing that he was protected by international law since he had already crossed the Zambezi River and was in the process of applying for asylum,’ the CID report noted.
A report on the News24 site notes that the UN refugee agency said it was ‘gravely concerned’ that Biti had been deported while trying to claim asylum. ‘Forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law,’ the UNHCR said in a statement. In a joint statement, the EU, US, Canadian and Australian missions to Zimbabwe urged authorities 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’. As previously reported in Legalbrief Today, a Harare court last week granted bail to 27 opposition supporters who are accused of fomenting post-election violence.
In a further significant development, US President Donald Trump yesterday signed into law the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Amendment Act. The Zimbabwe Mail reports that the Bill was passed by Congress in July and sets tough conditions for Zimbabwe to re-engage with the US. The so-called Zidera Act means that Zimbabwe’s economy is likely to continue suffering as sanctions will continue. ‘In terms of the control of resources, I think this new government, as soon as it is sworn in, and President (Emmerson) Mnangagwa takes over and forms a government, we have to deal with the issue of property rights,’ said Zimbabwean political analyst Otto Saki, of the Ford Foundation.
In a statement received by Legalbrief, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) said the violence should not detract from the success of the elections that has been broadly described by many observers as being free and fair. ‘We note that the African Union had an electoral observer mission to Zimbabwe that endorsed the process as being free and fair. The SADC electoral observer mission has also endorsed the elections as being free and fair. We further note that Western observers have deemed the elections to be controversial. Western nations must be alive to the fact that Zimbabwe is not a perfect democracy with perfect conditions,’ said Nadel’s deputy secretary Ugeshnee Naicker.