News roundup 11/05/06

SA govt rejects asylum plea
JOHANNESBURG - Eight former employees of MDC MP Roy Bennett, have been denied political asylum in South Africa, on the grounds that their fears of persecution in Zimbabwe were "not well founded."
Analysis say the decision by the SA government's

Refugee Status Determination Office, which discarded as ‘manifestly unfounded’ claims of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, exposed ‘alarming ignorance’ about what was happening on the ground there.
Bennett himself has also applied for asylum, on grounds of political persecution, but this decision makes it doubtful whether his application will succeed.
Home Affairs department spokesman Nkosana Sibuyi acknowledged Bennett’s application two weeks ago, but said he was not going to be treated differently from other Zimbabwean applicants. He said Bennett had to join the queue of Zimbabweans who had applied for asylum. There is a backlog of 103 000 applications.
The Wits Law Clinic has taken up the case of Bennett’s former employees and has lodged a High Court case against the home affairs minister, alleging that the South African government is not taking the Zimbabwean human rights crisis seriously. – Own correspondent

AU asked to act on human rights
HARARE – Zimbabwe was this week once again singled out by The African NGO Forum, meeting in the Gambia, as one of the countries whose government continued to violate the rights of its citizens with impunity.
Various interest groups on torture, human rights, freedom of expression and the internally displaced all condemned Zimbabwe’s record of abuse, ranking it alongside Eritrea and Sudan as Africa’s worst human rights offenders.
The Forum noted that instead of abolishing repressive legislation like the AIPPA and POSA, the Zimbabwe government is instead in the process of introducing the Interception of Communications Bill as well as Amendment 18 to the Constitution, the former which seeks to legitimise spying on emails and other communications by security agents.
The Forum also noted that fundamental freedoms of association, assembly, dignity and freedom of expression remain stifled and that recent arrests of activists from the NCA, WOZA and the torture of opposition supporters and human rights defenders remain unpunished. The case of Gabriel Shumba, whose torturers were promoted to higher rank, was singled out as one case in point. Also lamented was the continued harrassment of the few independent judges remaining on the bench.
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which started its 39th session on Wednesday this week, was requested by the forum to follow up with the African Union directly to find out what measures will be taken against Zimbabwe in view of the fact that a resolution from the last session against Zimbabwe has still not been acted on.
Zimbabwean organisations represented at the Forum included Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Zimrights and Zimbabwe Exiles Forum. Commenting on these developments, ZEF executive director, Gabriel Shumba, observed: ‘It is encouraging to the generality of Zimbabweans that African NGO’s remain steadfast in condemning the atrocities occurring in Zimbabwe. We urge the AU, through the ACHPR, to adopt a similar position as well as taking steps against the dictatorship in Zimbabwe’. – Own correspondent

Witch-hunt for Bennett supporters
MUTARE – It seems the Zimbabwean authorities will not rest where Roy Bennett is concerned. Last year he was released from a nine-month jail sentence, internationally condemned as unlawful. He had only been out of prison a few months when he was implicated in a convoluted ‘plot’ to assassinate Robert Mugabe.
After spending six years under constant harassment and intimidation by the government and state-sponsored thugs, the former commercial farmer and MDC Member of Parliament for Chimanimani finally fled the country last month to seek asylum in South Africa.
Despite widespread news coverage that Bennett is in South Africa, Zimbabwean authorities are reported to have embarked on a witch-hunt in Manicaland for people perceived to be linked to him in any way.
Pishai Muchauraya, the provincial spokesman for the Tsvangirai MDC in Manicaland, said armed police officers with sniffer dogs raided the home of provincial chairman Godfrey Mubatso in Zimunya township, just outside Mutare, on Saturday. The police officers, led by an Inspector Mavhenyengu from Mutare Rural Police, are reported to have dug trenches in the opposition official’s garden looking for arms of war, but found none. They had no search warrant.
Inspector Mavhenyengu denied these allegations when asked to comment. He said the police had gone to Mubatso’s home to investigate alleged stolen property.
But Muchauraya said Mubatso was being victimised for being linked to the former opposition MP. “Mubatso was Roy Bennett’s deputy before Roy was elected treasurer general of our party. And when these people (police) went to his place they started asking questions; Do you know Roy Bennett? Has he ever visited this place and how many times? – and a lot of such silly questions pertaining to Roy Bennett,” he said.
Several people in Chimanimani are also said to have been interrogated recently. Muchauraya said Vhaisai Munjoma and Fabion Musukutwa, the brothers of Chief Mutambara, were visited by state agents who wanted to know the whereabouts of Bennett. The two had last month received a beast on behalf of Roy Bennett when he was honoured by the MDC provincial leadership at a rally in Mutare on April 22.
The information officer reported that Chief Mutambara himself was, last Tuesday, forced to address a press conference in the presence of soldiers, CIO and the District Administrator for Chimanimani Smart Chindawande, denouncing the MDC.
Muchauraya said the stage-managed event received front page coverage in the province’s weekly Manica Post newspaper. The Chief is reported to have openly declared his support for the opposition party in the past. According to Muchauraya the Chief was threatened by state agents including the Governor of Manicaland Tinayi Chigudu after they accused him of supporting the MDC and Roy Bennett.
The victimisation has also seen Bennett’s farm workers on the receiving end of state brutality. Scores were left without a job after his farm in Chimanimani was illegally occupied by war veterans, the army and government officials. Several people were murdered at his farm and a number of women were raped, allegedly by Zanu (PF) sponsored thugs. – SW Radio Africa

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