Tsvangirai says arrest of aides is pre-vote ‘intimidation’
Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Monday the arrest of his
aides is intimidation by political rivals in the run-up to general elections
due later this year.
Tsvangirai is in an uncomfortable coalition government with his arch-rival
and veteran leader President Robert Mugabe — which should end with
elections after voters approved the adoption of a new constitution in a
referendum at the weekend.
“What we are seeing are signs of fear,” said Tsvangirai in a statement.
“The targeting of my office is reprehensible and is meant to harass and
intimidate the nation ahead of the election, now that we are done with the
referendum,” he said.
Four of Tsvangirai’s aides were arrested on Sunday in a raid on the prime
minister’s communications office in Harare, along with a top rights lawyer.
“These are signs of a police force that has become an appendage of a
political party, which is now showing signs of panic and fear in light of
the imminent prospects of losing the forthcoming election,” said Tsvangirai
in reference to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.
Meanwhile, the arrest of lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who was held in police
custody Monday despite a judge ordering her release, has drawn the ire of
rights groups across the globe.
Mtetwa, a prominent figure in Zimbabwe who has handled a number of top cases
including previous raids on activists, was arrested on Sunday morning as she
sought to help Tsvangirai’s aides during the raid on their offices.
Police said Mtetwa was detained for shouting at detectives.
A court ordered her release late on Sunday, but police defied the order.
“She is still detained at Rhodesville police station,” lawyer Harrison Nkomo
told AFP, adding that the police’s decision not to immediately heed that
order was “a clear violation”.
A group of Zimbabwean rights lawyers has filed a court application to have
the police held in contempt of court.
“The arrest of Mtetwa is in itself alarming,” said the International
Committee of Jurists, Pan African Lawyers Union and groups of lawyers from
the southern Africa region.
“But coming on the heels of a referendum to endorse a new constitution
which, whatever its other limitations, contains strong protection of the
rights of those arrested and detained, is more distressing still.”
They called for a “clear and unambiguous departure” from past harassment and
intimidation of human rights defenders.
Amnesty International said “the Zimbabwean police must, without further
delay, comply with the court order and unconditionally grant Ms Mtetwa her
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said Mtetwa had been denied access
to her relatives.
The group’s director Irene Petras said Mtetwa’s detention showed that
Zimbabwe’s police force had not reformed.
“We are vindicated in setting out what needs to be done. These kinds of
things need to be addressed.”
Meanwhile the three Tsvangirai staffers and a party official have not yet
been charged and are still in detention.
They were accused of impersonating police officers.
Their lawyer Alec Muchadehama has filed an urgent court application seeking
their release, which has yet to be heard.
The arrests have tainted a referendum held on Saturday on a draft charter
expected to pave the way for new elections planned for July.
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