Police arrest Tsvangirai staffers

HARARE - Police have swooped on Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s communications office looking for “subversive” material and arrested several officials in a development which raises questions about the country’s stability ahead of elections.

Hours after a largely peaceful referendum on a draft constitution, over a dozen police officers raided the home of Tsvangirai’s principal director for research and development Thabani Mpofu early on Sunday morning.

They also picked up Warship Dumba, a former Harare city councillor, PM office staffers Felix Matsinde and Annah Muzvidziwa and were believed to be on the hunt for other top aides including Alex Magaisa and Jacob Mafume.

Police said the arrests were justified.

“We also arrested Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Warship Dumba and Anna Annah Muzvidziwa for impersonating police, they are in custody and investigations are being conducted.

“We have also arrested Beatrice Mtetwa for obstructing the course of justice. And this is contrary to media reports that they have been kidnapped. People are arrested by police because we have that mandate and they are not kidnapped. Amongst those arrested are ex-public prosecutors who have been fired for corruption and malpractice,” said Charamba.

On Mtetwa she said: “When it goes beyond her legal mandate then police have the right to arrest. As far as we are concerned, Beatrice did not go to the police station but she went where police were conducting searches and she was shouting at detectives and this is as far as I can tell you right now.”

But Tsvangirai’s spokesperson Luke Tamborinyoka told the Daily News the police action has poisoned the political environment.

“Fifteen police officers descended on the Prime Minister’s communications office without notice.

“The problem is this kind of behaviour sours the whole political environment. It is not the kind of action expected at a time when people are talking about acceptance of diverse opinion,” said Tamborinyoka.

“It is shocking and one wonders what awaits ordinary Zimbabweans if this kind of unrestrained heavy handedness by the police can happen to an executive office,” Tamborinyoka said.

Tamborinyoka said Tsvangirai was shocked by the police action.

 “Nobody has said anything officially. The Prime Minister takes this as an assault on the institution of his office and is dismayed at the harassment of his staff. What we have heard is that they are looking for subversive material.

“We are told they are looking for more people. They have taken computers and other electronic equipment from Mpofu’s home and one of the staffers was actually arrested at church, of all places,” said Tamborinyoka.

Police also arrested human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa. Mtetwa in the course of her duties as she was representing Mpofu and two other staffers.

A team of 15 lawyers, mainly from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has been set up to represent those in police custody.

Mtetwa’s lawyer Harrison Nkomo said the feisty human rights lawyer will likely appear in court today.

“She is being charged with obstruction of justice and is being detained overnight. We anticipate that she will appear in court tomorrow (today),” Nkomo told the Daily News last night.

Alec Muchadehama, representing the four PM staffers said: “They are being held at the police law and order section but we are yet to know the offence for which they are being charged. Police say they are still looking at the material they recovered at their places of residence and the Prime Minister’s communications office along Bath Road in Avondale.

“At the moment police have indicated that they might charge them for contravening section 40 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act that deals with possession of articles which are likely to be used in the commission of criminal offences,” Muchadehama said.

The human rights lawyer was hoping his clients would be charged before close of business yesterday.

“We hope they will be able to come up with a charge against them. My understanding is that they should arrest people for possession of crow bars and master keys but at the moment the police only have documents,” said Muchadehama.

The latest police action comes in the wake of an unrelenting police attack on non-governmental organisations and arrests of civic society leaders in what analysts say are election related.

There has also been an escalation of violence that Tsvangirai says led to the horrific death in an inferno of Christpower Maisiri, whose parents are MDC activists.

Police have not made any arrests in the Maisiri case but have since announced that no foul play is suspected.

On the eve of the referendum, violence rocked the volatile high density suburb of Mbare  where MDC officials on a campaign trail were assaulted by suspected Zanu PF activists.

As Zimbabweans trooped to polling station to decide on a proposed new constitution, Tsvangirai’s party claimed an MDC official in Manicaland was abducted but police later owned up and announced they had arrested the man for allegedly attacking a Zanu PF supporter’s home with a petrol bomb.

The incidents have taken the gloss off the referendum,which was viewed as a giant step in Zimbabwe’s stride towards fresh democracy.

Tsvangirai last night met Sadc observers in Harare to brief them on the “assault” on his office, Tamborinyoka said.

The observers had earlier told reporters that police should investigate incidents of politically motivated violence that rocked Harare’s Mbare suburb on the eve of the referendum. - Bridget Mananavire and Richard Chidza

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