Biti arrest sparks outrage

HARARE - The arrest of former Finance minister Tendai Biti has triggered widespread condemnation of the on-going crackdown by government, targeting MDC Alliance leaders.

Biti had gone into hiding to escape the authorities who launched a manhunt on those perceived to have been behind the violence that rocked central Harare mid last week.

He was handed to the police early yesterday morning by the Zambian authorities, who rejected his request for asylum the previous day.

In a statement, the European Union delegation, the Heads of Mission of EU Member States present in Harare and the Heads of Mission of Australia, Canada, and the United States said they were deeply disturbed by reports that opposition supporters were being targeted by the security forces.

“The Heads of Mission note that MDC Alliance principal and former Zimbabwean minister of Finance, Mr Tendai Biti, is in the custody of the Zimbabwean authorities after criminal charges were levelled against him. 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,” reads part of the statement.

US senator Chris Coons called upon Washington to stand against the clampdown on opposition figures, saying he was 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. Any disagreements over last month’s election should be dealt with through fair and open investigations, hearings, and legal processes,” said Coons.

Coons is particularly alarmed by the detention of opposition leaders by security forces, adding the US senate will hold Harare responsible for ensuring Biti and other detainees are not harmed in any way.

“I also call upon the (Donald) 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,” said Coons.

Washington had set a free and fair election as a precondition for total re-engagement with Harare following years of strained relations that emanated from abuse of human rights by the then tyrannical Robert Mugabe when he was president.

US congressman Elliot Engel also took to Twitter to condemn the treatment meted to those who oppose the status quo.

“Political opposition is not a crime. The Government of Zimbabwe’s pursuit of Tendai Biti, a senior member of the opposition MDC Alliance, is outrageous and casts more doubt on the government’s claims that it’s turned a page on its past use of violence and intimidation,” said Engel.

The UK embassy in Harare said it is following the developments around Biti closely.

Tonoziva Bere, former president of the Law Society of Zimbabwe, tweeted in solidarity with Biti yesterday.

He said: “I grew up with Tendai Biti. He was and still is well known for strong frank language. He speaks his mind. But he has no guns or an army. The truth needs none. Contest his ideas. Don’t terrorise him. #FreeBiti”.

Legal expert, Alex Magaisa, was keen to know the source of controversial directives that resulted in the deaths of civilians last week, the disruption of a media conference at a local hotel and Biti’s arrest.

“When soldiers killed civilians, ED promised to appoint independent investigators. When police disrupted a press conference, he sent his minister to stop them. Now we are told he issued a directive for Biti’s release. The president is always holding a mop but who’s messing up?” he queried.

Arnold Tsunga, Africa director at International Commission of Jurists, wondered what continental and regional bodies such as the African Union and the Southern African Development (Sadc) were doing when human rights were being trampled upon in Zimbabwe.

“#ZAMBIA deportation of #TendaiBiti to Harare imminent, asylum application rejected, unimpeded access to lawyers not facilitated. Democracy in Africa is in a comatose. It is not a crime to be oppositional. Where is the Sadc? Where is the AU? Where is the UN?”

David Coltart, a top opposition figure, said Zambia was in violation of the international law.

“It appears the Zambian government is much the same as our own junta. Lawyer Gilbert Phiri has just advised that they defied the order of court and international law and it appears they have deported Biti. Police officers refused to accept the order which was then left at their door,” said Coltart.

According to the Zambia Refugee Act 2017, 11(4): “a person who applies for recognition as a refugee has the right to remain in that country until that he or she is recognised as a refugee; or has had an opportunity to exhaust his/her right of appeal.