Biti expected in court as state seeks to split case

HARARE – Zimbabwe opposition secretary general Tendai Biti is back in court on Tuesday to hear how the state intends to proceed against him on charges of treason as the defence said the state was on a “fishing expedition” against the politician.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has charged Biti with treason over
a controversial document that it says was authored by the MDC
politician and which outlines plans to seize power through
unconstitutional means. He faces the death penalty if convicted of

The opposition politician also faces charges of insulting Mugabe,
causing disaffection among security forces and publishing falsehoods
when he announced that MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had won the March
presidential election by an outright majority.

Tsvangirai won the election but fell short of the outright majority of 50 percent-plus-one votes.

Harare magistrate Gloria Takundwa will today hear an application by the
state to have charges against Biti split so that the other three lesser
charges will be heard by a magistrate while a High Court judge will
preside over the treason trial at a date yet to be decided.

During a brief hearing before Takundwa on Monday, Biti’s lawyers
vehemently opposed attempts by the state to split charges against the
MDC secretary general, arguing that all four charges against their
client emanate from one document and splitting them would be
prejudicial to him.

"We do not accept the reasons the state has given that the other three
charges excluding treason can be tried in the magistrate court while
treason will be charged in the High Court at a latter unknown date,”
said Biti’s lawyer, Lewis Uriri.

He added: "We contend that he was charged in one instance on all four
charges and therefore a trial must be in respect of all four charges
unless off course they want to withdraw the treason charge which they
have said they are not withdrawing.

"To separate the charges is therefore prejudicial to the accused. It’s like a fishing expedition."

Uriri has also written to the state demanding that a trail date be set,
failure of which he would apply to court to have Biti removed from

The state was unable to give a trial date for the matter because the
prosecutor dealing with Biti’s case was away. Stand in prosecutor Allan
Masiya indicated the state might be able to provide a trial date today.

Biti, who is out on bail, is the MDC’s chief representative in
power-sharing negotiations with Mugabe’s ruling ZANU PF party that are
however at risk of collapsing over distribution of powerful Cabinet
posts and other unresolved issues.

The opposition politician, who is himself a practicing lawyer, denies
breaking the law and has dismissed the charges against him as false and
based on a “fake” document written by the government’s spy Central
Intelligence Organisation.

The MDC said last Friday it would not join a unity government with ZANU
PF until all “unresolved issues” regarding control of powerful
ministerial posts, distribution of gubernatorial posts, ambassadorships
and other top government posts have been concluded.

The opposition party also vowed to wage a campaign of resistance against any new administration set up by Mugabe.

However analysts expect Mugabe – a cunning and ruthlessness operator
even at 84 years of age – to pile pressure on the MDC, including by
pursuing criminal charges against the opposition’s top leaders as he
has done in the past in bid to arm twist it into joining his
government. – ZimOnline

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