Skip to comments.Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's opposition leader, goes on trial for his life tomorrow
Posted on 02/02/2003 2:04:50 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
Harare treason trial casts deeper shadow on England's match
Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's opposition leader, goes on trial for his life tomorrow in a treason case that will heighten tension in the country little more than a week before England's planned match in the cricket World Cup.
Mr Tsvangirai, who is expected to use the trial as a platform to attack the government, denies plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe. The charge is a capital offence although the punishment of death by hanging is not mandatory.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) claims that he and two co-accused fell prey to a crude sting organised by the regime's secret police.
"It is a disgrace that England, Australia and the rest will be playing cricket here while the leader of the opposition - and the real winner of last year's elections - is on trial for a capital offence," said David Coltart, the MDC's shadow justice minister.
In Harare, where England is due to meet Zimbabwe in 11 days' time, the regime is intensifying its clampdown on opposition supporters in scenes that will further alarm Nasser Hussein and his players.
The authorities are desperate to stifle dissent as Zimbabwe prepares to host six World Cup matches. A coalition of anti-Mugabe civil factions has said that it will stage protests during the competition and a group called Organised Resistance has threatened to target the fixtures.
Last week, police fired tear-gas to break up a crowd of protesters outside the offices of Elias Mudzuri, the capital's MDC mayor. The clashes took place about a mile from the Harare Sports Ground, where England will play. Mr Mudzuri has said that he cannot guarantee the safety of visiting cricketers.
Regular reports of torture also continue to emerge. Fanuel Tsvangirayi, an MDC official in the Harare township of Kuwadzana, described how he was tortured by suspected agents of Mr Mugabe's Central Intelligence Organisation after being abducted and held at a local police station.
"My assailants tied bricks to my testicles and connected live electric wires to my toes," he said. They wanted to force him to disclose MDC tactics for a forthcoming by-election in the constituency.
About 30 MDC activists were abducted, beaten or tortured in Kuwadzana after a supporter of the ruling Zanu-PF party died in a petrol bomb attack. The political violence has turned the district into a no-go zone.
The dwindling band of white farmers is also coming under renewed attack as Mr Mugabe ploughs ahead with a land redistribution programme that, combined with drought, has left millions on the verge of starvation. In the latest incident, Michael Caine, 35, was taken to hospital last week after a mob attack on his farm in Beatrice, near Harare.
In further developments, two American reporters with correct media accreditation were arrested and deported and five foreign church workers who the regime suspected were undercover journalists were also thrown out of the country.
At his trial, Mr Tsvangirai will be represented by George Bizos, the veteran South African anti-apartheid lawyer who came to prominence when he defended Nelson Mandela in the 1963 Rivonia trial. Despite his impressive defence, Mandela spent the next 27 years in jail.
The treason charge is based on a secretly filmed meeting between Mr Tsvangirai and a Canadian consultancy company hired by the Zimbabwe government to improve its international image. When the tapes were first broadcast on Zimbabwean state television, viewers noted that the digital timing did not run in sequence between frames.
The defence will claim that the video had been doctored to misrepresent the conversation and that key exchanges are inaudible. The prosecution's chief witness is Ari Ben-Menashe, a former Israeli intelligence agent who runs the Canadian firm, Dickens and Madson.
Last week he said that he had been subpoenaed to appear and would testify if called, ending speculation in Zimbabwe that he would not attend the trial. The timing of the hearing may be awkward for the government as it launches a diplomatic offensive to persuade the Commonwealth "troika" of South Africa, Nigeria and Australia to lift its suspension. The case also comes as Zimbabwe attempts to take advantage of a French invitation to visit Paris to have sanctions lifted on Mr Mugabe and his allies.
"I think Tsvangirai and his colleagues are going to use this trial to highlight Mugabe's violent campaign against the opposition, his record on human rights," said a Western diplomat in Harare. "I think Mugabe's politics will end up in the dock and the president's and the government's image is likely to suffer."
Last week, Mr Tsvangirai said: "We will defend ourselves strongly because we are innocent. We're victims of a government frame-up."
Thus has the bravest, best organised and most tenacious democratic opposition movement in Africa's history gone down to defeat. Mr Tsvangirai, aware of the great danger to which protest would expose his many supporters, has appealed for calm. He himself may now, outrageously, be arrested on charges of treason. Mr Mugabe has said as much. A man who, back in 1982, sent in brigades to massacre 20,000 Ndebele must be judged ready to carry out his threat.
Mr Tsvangirai, and the men and women who have conquered their fear in his support, deserve the unstinting support of all African leaders with any claim to democratic legitimacy. They are not getting that support. The Organisation of African Unity, true to its reputation as a despots' club, has pronounced the poll to be "transparent, credible, free and fair". Kenya's Daniel arap Moi has congratulated his "dear brother" on the "confidence and high esteem the people of Zimbabwe hold in you". Tanzania's President delights in his "richly deserved" triumph. The observers sent by South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, ferociously mocked at home for their complacency, term the outcome "legitimate", though they could not quite bring out the words "free and fair".***
March 2002 - Defiant Mugabe presses Tsvangirai treason - The Guardian -*** In a courtroom packed with his supporters, Mr Tsvangirai pleaded not guilty to the charge that he sought to hire Canadian political consultants to assassinate Mr Mugabe. His lawyer, Eric Matinenga, said told the court that the charge was "a kneejerk reaction" to Zimbabwe's one-year suspension from Commonwealth membership.
"Mr Tsvangirai's stake in this country is too high to think he would run away from allegations that are very weak indeed," Mr Matinenga said. The MDC's secretary general, Welshman Ncube, who is also charged with treason, said the charges were "an attempt to continue the harassment of the leadership of the MDC and to make it impossible for us to continue to resist an illegitimate government". He said the suggestion that the MDC should enter into a government of national unity with Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party "was always out of the question", adding: "You cannot negotiate a government of national unity with a government you believe to be illegitimate." ***
Government pledges to investigate allegations of torture against opposition lawmaker Job Sikhala, his lawyer and three others were all part of a cover-up, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai said.
"It is a whitewash, a way of trying to convey a nation at peace with itself," he said.
Zimbabwe is hosting six World Cup cricket matches beginning Feb. 10, and President Robert Mugabe is scheduled to attend an African summit in France later in February. Britain and its former colonies are to discuss in March whether to continue barring Zimbabwe from its committees.
Zimbabwe has been wracked by political and economic turmoil since March 2000 when ruling party militants began a state-orchestrated campaign to seize thousands of white-owned commercial farms.
The government has denied opposition allegations of systematic torture by police, though human rights groups have regularly reported on such abuse.
Sikhala's "isolated allegation against the force is, for very obvious reasons, being hyped and sensationalized for political self gain," government spokesman George Charamba said.
Announcing a torture inquiry in the state media Sunday, police inspector Cecilia Churu said a team of investigators was formed last week, but most torture allegations were "aimed at distracting people from the serious allegations (they) might be facing."
Sikhala's layer Gabriel Shumba said he was also tortured. At a court appearance on Jan. 16, Shumba said he was masked by police and intelligence agents who accused him of plotting to overthrow the government after arresting him the day before.
Power cables were later attached to his toes, genitals and teeth, Shumba said. He said he was doused with water as the power current was increased and ordered to lick up blood that had spewed from his mouth.
Shumba was then hospitalized for a week and claimed to have medical records proving he was tortured.
Sikhala, appearing in court the same day, said police urinated on him, made him roll in their urine and forced him to drink urine. He was accused of involvement in the firebombing of a bus owned by the state transport company, charges he denied.
Tsvangirai called Monday for an independent commission to investigate at least 1,060 reports of torture by police and state agents, mostly of opposition supporters, last year.
He said the government acted as if it were disciplining disobedient children before visitors arrive, he said.
The southern African country is suffering its worse economic crisis since independence in 1980. Acute food shortages have left nearly 7 million people, more than half the population, facing famine. [End]
That's comforting to him, I'm sure.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.