Zimbabwe Detains Tendai Biti for ”inciting public violence;” Declaring “Unofficial Or Fake” Election Results,

Tendai Biti. (File: AFP)
Tendai Biti. (File: AFP)
Senior Zimbabwean opposition figure Tendai Biti was in police custody on Thursday after Zambia rejected his asylum bid and deported him, as fears grew about a government crackdown following Zimbabwe’s disputed election.

Biti was at Harare Central Police Station with his lawyers, said Roselyn Hanzi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said Biti faced charges of inciting public violence, which could bring up to a decade in prison, and declaring “unofficial or fake” election results, which has a maximum six-month sentence

Zambian border guards handed Biti to Zimbabwean authorities despite a Zambian court order saying he should not be deported until it could hear his appeal for asylum, Zambian lawyer Gilbert Phiri told The Associated Press.

“Zambian authorities acted in defiance of our courts, in defiance of regional and international law,” Phiri said. Zambia’s foreign minister said Biti’s reasons for seeking asylum “did not have merit.”

Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who narrowly won last week’s election. It comes as the opposition prepares to launch a legal challenge to last week’s voting results, calling them fraudulent.

“This is a worrying development,” said David Coltart, a friend of Biti’s who is a fellow member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a human rights lawyer. “Tendai was arrested in 2008 on a similar charge and while he was in custody he was brutally tortured.”

The United Nations refugee agency said it was “gravely concerned” about the reports of Biti’s forced return to Zimbabwe, calling such returns a serious violation of international law. It urged Zambian authorities to urgently investigate.

A joint statement by the heads of missions in Zimbabwe of the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia urgently called on Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee Biti’s safety and respect his rights. It also said the diplomats were “deeply disturbed” by the reports of Zimbabwean security forces targeting the opposition.

Biti, a former finance minister and newly elected member of parliament for the MDC, a day after the July 30 vote urged opposition supporters to defend their votes in the disputed ballot, saying that MDC candidate Nelson Chamisa had won the presidential race.

Authorities say it is against the law to declare the winner of an election before the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announces the official results.

The day after Biti’s remarks, the military opened fire to disperse opposition protesters in the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital, killing six people. Western election observers, whose endorsement of a credible election is badly needed for the lifting of international sanctions on Zimbabwe, quickly condemned the “excessive” force.

While Mnangagwa has hailed a “flowering” of democracy in Zimbabwe since longtime leader Robert Mugabe stepped down in November under military pressure, alarm has been growing inside and outside the country.

The British embassy in Zimbabwe said on Thursday it had spoken with Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities overnight to seek “clear assurances” that Biti’s safety would be guaranteed. The United States’ top diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, urged Zambian authorities to allow Biti to stay or allow him safe passage to a third country.

READ RELATED: Zambia hands over Tendai Biti to Zimbabwean police, defying court order: lawyer

READ RELATED: Zimbabwean opposition official Tendai Biti denied asylum, being deported

READ RELATED: Zimbabwe opposition official freed, lawyer says

The state-run Herald newspaper in an “editorial comment” said Biti “sneaked into Zambia in a bid to evade the law.”

It also urged Zambian authorities to respect Interpol and not the UN convention on refugees, which rejects the returning of asylum-seekers to the countries they have fled.

Under Mugabe’s 37 years in power, Zimbabwe was dogged by charges of rigged and fraudulent elections, along with violence against opposition figures.

Biti, one of the most outspoken critics of the government, was quick to warn that while the ouster of Mugabe was welcome, the military takeover that led to his resignation set a dangerous precedent for its involvement in civilian affairs.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Biti said in June.

Mugabe rejects Mnangagwa in Zimbabwe election as MDC President Nelson Chamisa calls for a national day of prayer on eve of poll

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has emerged to address the nation hours before Monday’s historic election, declaring: “I will not vote for those who have illegally taken power.”

In a slow and rambling address, his first since stepping down in November, the 94-year-old spoke to reporters about the circumstances of his removal under military pressure after a ruling party feud.

He was coy about endorsing a candidate ahead of the election in which the former deputy he fired, President Emmerson Mnangagawa, faces 40-year-old lawyer and pastor Nelson Chamisa.

Robert Mugabe holds a press briefing at his residence in Harare (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)

“I cannot vote for those who have tormented me,” Mr Mugabe said, in a reference to Mr Mnangagwa, who took office with the military’s support. “I cannot vote for Zanu-PF,” the ruling party he long controlled.

Mr Mugabe, who has backed a new political party that is part of a coalition supporting Mr Chamisa, said: “He seems to be doing well at his rallies.”

He added: “Whoever wins, we wish him well. And let us accept the verdict.”

Nelson Chamisa@nelsonchamisa

The campaign is ended. The sacrifice and electricity is phenomenal. With nothing we did everything, our best. God does the rest. Join us this day, 29 July 2018, in our declared National Day of Prayer and Fasting. It is done and sealed.

Many in Zimbabwe knew no other leader but Mr Mugabe, who led the country for 37 years and since independence from white minority rule in 1980. What began with optimism crumbled into repression, alleged vote-rigging, intimidation of the opposition, violent land seizures from white farmers and years of international sanctions.

The country hopes a credible vote on Monday could get the sanctions lifted and bring badly needed investment for a collapsed economy.

President of Zimbabwe

@edmnangagwa

Tomorrow, we will go out as one, with peace and love in our hearts, and we will vote to finish what we started.

We will vote for action, for leadership and for a concrete plan to realise our dreams.

We will vote for a new Zimbabwe for all!

Have a blessed Sunday

Mr Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe confidante, has tried to recast himself as a voice for reform, inviting back dozens of election observers and pledging a free and fair vote.

“I have during all this time liked our return to conditionality, our return to legality, an environment in which our people are free,” Mr Mugabe told reporters.

But he blamed “evil and malicious characters” for his removal from power, which was met with a joyous outpouring by thousands in the capital, Harare. He said he resigned to avoid “bloodshed”.

Zimbabwe’s ex-President Robert Mugabe slams ruling party on election eve

In his first speech since stepping down as president, Mugabe has said he “cannot” vote for his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in Monday’s landmark election. He spoke of having been “tormented” before his ouster.

    
Zimbabwe's former president Robert Mugabe looks on during a press conference at his private residence nicknamed Blue Roof in Harare (Reuters/S. Sibeko)
Zimbabwe’s former leader Robert Mugabe said on Sunday he would not be voting for his successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in the country’s upcoming election, claiming that the current government was unconstitutional. 

 “I will not vote for those who have illegally taken power,” he told reporters from his private residence in the capital, Harare. “I hope the choice of voting tomorrow will throw, thrust away the military government and bring us back to constitutionality.”

In his speech, which was described by several news agencies as “rambling,” he blamed “evil and malicious characters” for his ousting, and said he resigned to avoid “bloodshed.”

Mugabe’s downfall came in November 2017 after the central committee of the ruling ZANU-PF party removed him as party leader and appointed Mnangagwa to take over. Mugabe’s ouster after 37 years in power was celebrated by thousands in the streets of Harare.

Lawmakers in Zimbabwe's parliament celebrate as Mugabe's resignation letter is read out (Getty Images/AFP/J. Njikizana)
Mugabe’s resignation received a joyous reception in parliament

 

‘Utter nonsense’

The 94-year-old Mugabe had been accused of being too old to rule and allowing his wife, Grace, to “usurp” power. On Sunday, he slammed as “utter nonsense” the idea that he had wanted her to take over from him.

Mugabe speech came after months of silence and less than 24 hours before a historic presidential election takes place in the southern African nation — the first without him since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. It was his first national address since resigning from power.

An election poster depicting Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa (picture-alliance/dpa)Mnangagwa is Zimbabwe’s former intelligence chief

End of an era

Mugabe, whose rule of Zimbabwe became increasingly repressive over the years, called for a “democratic constitution” and the people’s freedom to speak. He also urged voters to accept the result, saying: “Whoever wins, we wish him well … And let us accept the verdict.”

Mnangagwa, 75, faces opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, 40, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe’s landmark vote. Opinion polls, which are considered largely unreliable, have shown Mnangagwa with a slim lead.