Critics demand Grace Mugabe to be banned from Hong Kong

Other News Materials 24 March 2009 07:28 (UTC +04:00)

Hong Kong lawmakers and human rights activists on Tuesday called for the wife of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to be banned from the city after she was granted diplomatic immunity over an alleged assault, dpa reported.

   Grace Mugabe, 43, escaped prosecution for allegedly attacking a British photographer who took pictures of her on a shopping trip to Hong Kong in January.

   The ruling that she enjoyed diplomatic immunity was greeted with fury by some legislators and human rights activists who demanded a full explanation from the Department of Justice and urged to ban Grace Mugabe from returning to the city of 7 million.

   Photographer Richard Jones, 42, claims he was repeatedly hit by Grace Mugabe in the January 15 assault and left with cuts on his face from a diamond ring she was wearing.

   The assault took place while Grace Mugabe and her entourage were on a luxury Asian holiday reportedly funded by 92,000 US dollars withdrawn from the Harare central bank by her husband, at a time her home country is suffering hyperinflation, widespread poverty and continued political turmoil following Robert Mugabe's apparent loss of the 2008 presidential elections.

   Speaking on the government-run radio station RTHK, human rights activist Law Yuk-kai on Tuesday demanded a full explanation on why immunity was extended.

   He questioned whether she was entitled when on a private shopping visit to the city, where her daughter Bona is a university student and she and her husband have reportedly bought a 5-million-US-dollar home.

   "We need to do something about it," he said. "They [the Department of Justice] should give out what information they have in hand to the Hong Kong public," he said.

   Some legislators also called to ban Grace Mugabe from entering Hong Kong. "Is there nothing we can do?" pro-democracy lawmaker Audrey Eu said in Tuesday's South China Morning Post.

   "Even though she has diplomatic immunity and cannot be arrested, at least we can refuse to let someone who has committed a crime in Hong Kong visit again."

   In a statement on Sunday, Hong Kong's Department of Justice cited mainland China's regulations on diplomatic immunity, saying they applied to Hong Kong as well.

   "We have ascertained that ... Grace Mugabe is not liable to arrest or detention and enjoys immunity from criminal jurisdiction," it said.

   A spokesman declined to clarify whether Grace Mugabe had requested diplomatic immunity or it had been granted automatically.

   The decision comes despite a police report which, according to sources, concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute Grace Mugabe for the alleged assault, which was seen by two independent witnesses.

   Jones earlier told the German Press Agency dpa he was disappointed but not surprised by the outcome, adding that it was "appalling" that Grace Mugabe could behave as she did without being held to account.

Diplomatic immunity is recognized worldwide under the terms of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and has in the past shielded diplomats overseas from prosecution for serious offences.