Zimbabwe opposition figure loses out-of-jail bid

Other News Materials 18 June 2008 03:01 (UTC +04:00)

Attempts by a top opposition official to be released from police custody five days after his arrest on treason charges failed again Tuesday, lawyers for Tendai Biti, secretary- general of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said.

Harare high court judge Samuel Kudya dismissed an appeal by Biti's lawyers that he was being illegally held. The lawyers argued that police had failed to bring him to court despite the warrant for his arrest stating he was to be brought before a magistrate "immediately."

Biti has been held in police cells for a fifth night now, despite laws that demand no one can be held for more than 48 hours without being brought before a magistrate.

Biti's entanglements with the government of long-serving President Robert Mugabe are just the latest impediment that placed before the opposition as it prepares for run-off elections June 27.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who will face off against Mugabe, has been jailed repeatedly during the run-off election period and was threatened again on Tuesday with arrest by the government.

Biti, also a respected Harare lawyer, is accused of treason, based on statements he is alleged to have made in a document leaked to the Zimbabwe state press in April.

The statement purported to be an MDC policy document but was immediately dismissed by the MDC as a fake.

Biti faces three other charges, including one of "insulting the president," for saying 84-year-old President Mugabe, in power for an unbroken 28 years since independence in 1980, was "an evil man who should be arrested and handed over to the Hague" international criminal court.

"We shall have to take it up again tomorrow," said Biti's lawyer, Lewis Uriri. "This decision cannot go unchallenged."

He said Biti was "doing reasonably well, but he's obviously upset because he has committed no offence and believes that police are holding him on trumped-up charges to prevent him from campaigning."

Tsvangirai's campaigning has been repeatedly thwarted not only by his multiple arrests in western Zimbabwe but also by the banning of his rallies, the confiscation of his buses and vehicles and long unexplained detentions by police, dpa reported.