Ncube challenges passport seizure in High Court

HARARE - Prominent Zimbabwean and South African newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube on Monday made an urgent appeal to the High Court in Harare against the seizure of his passport by the government, the first time a controversial law allowing the state to withdraw passports from critics is being challe

nged in court. Immigration officials last week impounded Ncube’s passport at Bulawayo airport soon after he arrived from Johannesburg where he publishes the highly regarded Mail and Guardian newspaper. The officials told Ncube – a citizen of Zimbabwe and the publisher of two of the country’s few remaining independent newspapers – that his passport was being seized because his name appeared on a list compiled by state Registrar General Tobaiwa Mudede of people whose travel documents should be withdrawn. President Robert Mugabe’s government controversially amended Zimbabwe’s constitution last August to allow it to withdraw passports from citizens it deems will harm the “national interest” if they are allowed to travel abroad. The main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party and civic groups said the law was meant to hamper opposition leaders and government critics from travelling aboard to mobilise international pressure against Mugabe and his ruling Zanu (PF) party. Ncube wants the High Court to compel the government to return his passport, saying that the decision to seize the document was “made in disregard of rules of natural justice, procedural and substantive fairness.” He says in his court affidavit that by unilaterally deciding to withdraw his passport without affording him an opportunity to argue his case, the government had virtually “condemned him unheard in violation of basic tenets of natural justice.” Ncube also contends that the seizure of his passport, which if not overturned by the court will confine him to Zimbabwe, was in disregard of his “fundamental rights and liberties as provided for by the Constitution of Zimbabwe”. The reference to the constitution appears to suggest Ncube’s lawyer, Stenford Moyo, plans to challenge the constitutionality of the law permitting state seizure of citizens’ travel documents at the country’s highest court, the Supreme Court, if the High Court fails to order the release of his client’s passport. Mudede, Chief Immigration officer Elasto Mugwadi and Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi are cited as respondents in the matter The seizure of Ncube’s passport was the first time the government had done so since changing the law to give itself powers to stop its critics and opponents from leaving the country. But a day after seizing Ncube’s passport, immigration officials also seized the passport of MDC politician Paul Themba Nyathi telling him that his name was on the list of people whose travel documents must be withdrawn. It is not clear whether Nyathi will challenge the seizure of his passport in court although he told ZimOnline last Friday that he regarded the issue as political and requiring a political solution. Political analysts say the seizure of passports of critics and political opponents suggested Mugabe and Zanu (PF), who boosted their hold on power with a landslide victory in a controversial election last month, were panicking in the face of swelling public discontent because of worsening economic hardships. – ZimOnline

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