Biti arrested, granted bail



HARARE – Tendai Biti — a senior MDC Alliance official — was arrested in the early hours of Thursday before he was made to appear in court later in the day, facing charges of violating the Electoral Act.

He was released on bail.

A fierce critic of President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa, Biti was hauled before the courts for allegedly announcing fake or unofficial poll results.

He was represented by Beatrice Mtetwa, Harrison Nkomo, Alec Muchadehama, Jeremiah Bamu, Gift Mtisi and a host of other lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

The former Finance minister in the short-lived unity government in which the MDC shared power with Zanu PF between 2009 and 2013, was charged with contravening section 66 (a ) (i) of the Electoral Act, which criminalises unofficial declaration of poll results and public violence.

He was granted $5 000 bail and ordered to surrender his passport and title deeds to his Chisipite home, whose value is estimated at $200 000.

Biti was also asked to report twice a day at the Criminal Investigation Department Law and Order section, not to interfere with witnesses and was prohibited from addressing political gatherings.

It was alleged in court that on July 30, the fiery politician addressed a press conference at Number 4951 Highlands, Harare, where he was quoted saying:

“We have now received from our agents across the country ... results of the election show that the next president of this country is Chamisa ... ”

According to the State, Biti acted unlawfully by announcing such results before the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had done so.

Poll results released by Zec on August 3 showed that MDC Alliance leader, Nelson Chamisa, had trailed Mnangagwa of Zanu PF who polled 50,8 percent of the vote, with 44,3 percent.

This was contrary to Biti’s declaration that Chamisa had won the tightly-contested presidential ballot.

It was further alleged in court that on August 1, Biti was with former Zanu PF youth leader, Jim Kunaka, and met some of the 60 demonstrators that clashed with the army in town.

Biti was quoted saying: Ahoi, Ahoi, Tshisa mpama tshisa endai munobvisa banner iro (go and remove that banner)”.

As a result, the court heard that Mnangagwa’s banner was stripped and burnt to ashes.

Biti is alleged to have parked his car at the Zanu PF headquarters while rioters shattered window panes, burnt cars and vandalised property.

After the melee, the demonstrators retired to Biti’s car.

Mtetwa, a human rights lawyer, had during the court hearing demanded that the State release names of the said witnesses to which prosecutor, Justin Uladi, said he would advise the court today.

The matter has been adjourned to today for Biti to address magistrate Francis Mapfumo on whether he was lawfully before the court.

Biti also intends to give his complaints against the police.

Before his arrest yesterday, Biti had attempted to seek asylum in neighbouring Zambia.

On Wednesday, he handed himself to Zambia’s immigration officials at Chirundu Border Post as he sought asylum.

There was drama at the border post after cross-boarder traders stopped plain-clothed security details from arresting him.

Zambian officials, armed with AK47s, had to intervene to keep their Zimbabwean counterparts at bay before whisking the former Finance minister to Lusaka where he was, however, denied asylum status.

In denying him asylum, Lusaka said there was no breakdown of law and order in Zimbabwe and there citizens’ lives were not under threat.

Biti was subsequently deported to Harare yesterday morning.

Yesterday, Zambian authorities defied a court order stopping them from deporting Biti, and instead handed him over to local police.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has expressed grave concern over the turn of events in Lusaka saying forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their countries of origin was a serious violation of international refugee law.

“UNHCR calls on Zambia to investigate this reported incident urgently,” it said.

The MDC Alliance has now engaged Southern African Development Community chairperson and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to intervene in Zimbabwe’s escalating crisis.

Chamisa said the persecution of MDC Alliance officials, among them Biti, Morgen Komichi, Happymore Chidziva and others was unjustified and unacceptable.

“I raised this matter with president Ramaphosa whom we count on to persuade the perpetrators to halt this unmerited persecution,” he said.

Meanwhile, police national spokesperson, senior assistant commissioner Charity Charamba gave assurances yesterday that Biti was safe and would be treated like any other person facing criminal charges.

“He had skipped the country knowing very well that he was wanted by the police, although he was misleading members of the public through the media,” said Charamba.

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