Zimbabwe PM says arrest of aides is pre-vote ‘intimidation’

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Monday the arrest of his aides is intimidation by political rivals in the run-up to general elections due later this year.
Zimbabwe Prime Minister and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai speaks to church leaders who were gathered at his offices during a meeting focused on the final draft constitution in Harare.  ....
Zimbabwe Prime Minister and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai speaks to church leaders who were gathered at his offices during a meeting focused on the final draft constitution in Harare. ....

HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Monday the arrest of his aides is intimidation by political rivals in the run-up to general elections due later this year.

Tsvangirai is in an uncomfortable coalition government with his arch-rival and veteran leader President Robert Mugabe -- which should end with elections after voters approved the adoption of a new constitution in a referendum at the weekend.

“What we are seeing are signs of fear,” said Tsvangirai in a statement.

“The targeting of my office is reprehensible and is meant to harass and intimidate the nation ahead of the election, now that we are done with the referendum,” he said.

Four of Tsvangirai’s aides were arrested on Sunday in a raid on the prime minister’s communications office in Harare, along with a top rights lawyer.

“These are signs of a police force that has become an appendage of a political party, which is now showing signs of panic and fear in light of the imminent prospects of losing the forthcoming election,” said Tsvangirai in reference to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

Meanwhile, the arrest of lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who was held in police custody Monday despite a judge ordering her release, has drawn the ire of rights groups across the globe.

Mtetwa, a prominent figure in Zimbabwe who has handled a number of top cases including previous raids on activists, was arrested on Sunday morning as she sought to help Tsvangirai’s aides during the raid on their offices.

Police said Mtetwa was detained for shouting at detectives.

A court ordered her release late on Sunday, but police defied the order.

“She is still detained at Rhodesville police station,” lawyer Harrison Nkomo told AFP, adding that the police’s decision not to immediately heed that order was “a clear violation”.

A group of Zimbabwean rights lawyers has filed a court application to have the police held in contempt of court.

“The arrest of Mtetwa is in itself alarming,” said the International Committee of Jurists, Pan African Lawyers Union and groups of lawyers from the southern Africa region.

“But coming on the heels of a referendum to endorse a new constitution which, whatever its other limitations, contains strong protection of the rights of those arrested and detained, is more distressing still.”

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