[DEBATE] : MDC SG Tendai Biti to be charged with treason
dominic.tweedie at gmail.com
Thu Jun 12 18:41:06 BST 2008
Zimbabwean opposition official faces treason charge ahead of run-off
By: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HARARE, Zimbabwe - Police said Zimbabwe's No. 2 opposition official
would be charged with treason, a potential death penalty charge that
marked a dramatic escalation of a government crackdown ahead of a
Tendai Biti, the Movement for Democratic Change's secretary general,
was arrested Thursday at the Harare airport upon returning from South
Africa, party spokesman Nqobizitha Mlilo said. The party said he had
been taken to an unknown location.
The treason charge relates to a "transition document" discussing
changing Zimbabwe's government, police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena
Bvudzijena said that Biti would also be charged with making false
statements "prejudicial to the state," a charge that refers to
accusations Biti announced election results before the official count
was released. Under Zimbabwean law, only the electoral commission can
Bvudzijena said Biti was in police custody, but would not say where.
He said Biti would be formally charged "as soon as we are through with
our investigation," but would not be more specific.
Party officials said separately that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, -
who faces longtime leader Robert Mugabe in the June 27 run-off - was
detained again at a roadblock and taken to a police station. He was
released soon after and resumed campaigning, the party said.
It was the third time in recent weeks Tsvangirai has been briefly
detained while trying to campaign against the increasingly autocratic
U.S. Ambassador James McGee said Washington was "very, very concerned"
about Biti's arrest and word he would be charged with treason.
McGee said he had seen the MDC's transition document, and described it
as a routine plan any political party would draw up to identify
priorities if it were to come to power. But he said a forged version
had circulated that raised issues not in the genuine document,
including calls for punishing Mugabe hardliners.
"It was just a bunch of foolishness," McGee said.
The MDC said in its statement that plainclothes police arrested Biti
just after he got off the plane and before immigration. The party said
10 men then took him away in a truck.
Returning under threat of arrest was "a stupid decision," Biti said in
Johannesburg, but added that he believed he must return to continue
the battle for change.
He said he had been informed that he would be arrested but that it was
not clear on what charges.
"The only crime I have committed is fighting for democracy," he said
in Johannesburg, then hugged an aide and disappeared through the
Biti's detention robs the party of one of its most impassioned
spokesmen. Biti has led on-and-off talks with Mugabe's party, and his
arrest may signal Mugabe's final rejection of negotiating Zimbabwe out
of its political and economic crisis.
Tsvangirai had himself only returned to Zimbabwe on May 24. He, Biti
and other opposition leaders left Zimbabwe soon after the first round,
amid concerns about their security, to lobby support among southern
African regional leaders.
Tsvangirai came in first among a field of four March 29. His campaign
has been beset by violence. The opposition, foreign diplomats in
Zimbabwe, and Zimbabwean and international human rights groups accuse
Mugabe of unleashing attacks against Tsvangirai's supporters to ensure
he wins the run-off.
Zimbabwean government and party spokesmen repeatedly have denied such
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