Zimbabwe opposition politician seeking asylum following arrest
Tendai Biti, a leading member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, has since been released and is on Zambian soil seeking asylum.
A senior Zimbabwean opposition politician was briefly arrested while trying to cross into Zambia, lawyers said.
Tendai Biti, who was finance minister in an uneasy coalition government from 2009 to 2013, is a leading member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party.
His brief arrest came amid increasing concerns over a government crackdown after last week’s disputed presidential election.
The arrest, after scenes of the military opening fire in the streets of the capital and growing opposition claims of harassment, further challenged the Zimbabwe president’s assertions of a “flowering” of democracy in the months after long-time leader Robert Mugabe stepped down under military pressure.
Lawyer Denford Halimani said details were not immediately clear on the circumstances around Mr Biti’s release but confirmed that he was on Zambian soil and seeking asylum “on an urgent basis”.
The MDC has denounced the election win of President Emmerson Mnangagwa as fraudulent and vowed to challenge it in court this week.
Last week Mr Biti declared, before official election results were announced early on Friday, that opposition leader Nelson Chamisa had won,
“In a normal country Chamisa would be sworn in right now,” Mr Biti told reporters a day after the election.
Mr Chamisa also declared victory.
God truly is in it . History has been made .— TENDAI BITI (@BitiTendai) July 31, 2018
I’m UNSHAKEN & UNMOVED. By God’s grace we WON. God’s promises are sure & true. Get ready to behold the NEW. Change is coming! I’m fortified by Job 19:25..For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth.#Godisinit.— Nelson Chamisa (@nelsonchamisa) August 5, 2018
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has said it is illegal to announce results before its own official announcement.
Mr Mnangagwa was more restrained during the vote count, saying only that the situation looked positive. However, some reporting in state-run media declared him the winner before the official results were out.
A week ago, Zimbabwe went to vote in the spirit of hope & freedom. The campaign & voting were blessed by the entire world. The final results were in line with polling & identical to the tallies of ZESN & other foreign monitors. A free, fair & credible election (1/3)— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) August 7, 2018
The violence that followed was regrettable & tragic. There is no place for violence in our society, and allegations of further incidents concern us all. Any claim supported by evidence will be examined and investigations are underway as we seek truth & justice (2/3)— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) August 7, 2018
We have much to learn from this seminal week in our history. Recommendations from the international community are welcome and will be implemented. Transparency and accountability remain paramount. And despite the naysayers, in this new Zimbabwe, freedom will reign (3/3)— President of Zimbabwe (@edmnangagwa) August 7, 2018
The opposition has seven days from the announcement of the official election results to file a court challenge.
Mr Chamisa’s lawyer Thabani Mpofu told reporters on Wednesday they will file the challenge in time. That would push back an inauguration that Mr Mnangagwa’s administration already had planned for Sunday.
Mr Biti was named along with Mr Chamisa in a search warrant issued last week that said they and several others were suspected of the crimes of “possession of dangerous weapons” and “subversive material” as well as “public violence”, according to a copy of the warrant seen by The Associated Press.
Police raided the opposition party headquarters a day after the military rolled into the capital, Harare, and dispersed protesting opposition supporters with gunfire.
The supporters were angry over the announcement that the ruling party had won a majority of seats in parliament and some were rioting. Six people were killed, including a woman vendor who was shot in the back.
“We condemn the murders of compatriots,” Mr Biti said on Twitter that day; he has been silent ever since. “We call for restraint.”