Lawyer Tendai Biti, former finance minister, speaks to journalits after a two-week ban on public protests issued by the police was struck down, in the capital Harare

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

Zimbabwean police took former finance minister and opposition leader Tendai Biti into custody on Thursday after Zambian authorities rejected his bid for asylum and deported him, his lawyers said.

Police in Zimbabwe were looking for Biti and eight other opposition figures for allegedly fomenting violence following a disputed national election in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner.

"The information we have is that he is now being escorted back to Harare by detectives," said Alec Muchadehama, one of several Zimbabwean lawyers representing Biti, told Reuters.

Police national spokeswoman Charity Charamba said she had no information on Biti's case.

Six people were killed last week in an army crackdown on post-election protests against the victory by Mnangagwa's ruling ZANU-PF party. Mnangagwa's main rival, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, has accused the government of clamping down on members of his party.

Biti, whose People's Democratic Party had formed an election alliance with Chamisa's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), had been in hiding since last week and had feared for his life, another of his lawyers, Nqobizitha Mlilo, said.

The outspoken former finance minister finds himself in almost the same situation he was in 2008 when he was arrested for announcing that the late MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won a presidential vote.


Official results later showed Tsvangirai beat ex-president Robert Mugabe but not by enough votes to avoid a runoff.

The British embassy in Harare said it was closely following Biti's case and had spoken to Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities.

"We (and others) are seeking clear assurances from the Zimbabwean authorities that his safety will be guaranteed and constitutional rights fully respected," the embassy wrote on its Twitter page.

The post-election turmoil is reminiscent of contested elections during the near four-decade rule of Mugabe, who was toppled last November in a de facto military coup.

He was replaced by his former intelligence and defense chief Mnangagwa, who pledged to hold free and fair elections.

Earlier, Biti's Zambian lawyer Gilbert Phiri said the Zambian High Court on Wednesday night issued an order to stop Biti's deportation but Zambian immigration and police refused to accept the court papers.

Biti had sought asylum when he tried to enter Zambia through the Chirundu border post, 350 km (220 miles) north of the capital Harare, but his application was rejected.

He was then moved to a school near another border crossing in Kariba before being handed over to Zimbabwean police, Phiri said.

(Additional reporting by Chris Mfula in Lusaka; editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean)


Source: Reuters