Zambia hands over Tendai Biti to Zim authorities

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HARARE, August 9 ‑ Neighbouring Zambia has handed fleeing lawyer and opposition legislator Tendai Biti over to Zimbabwean authorities despite a court order saying he should stay in that country until a determination has been made regarding his refugee status.

His lawyer in Zambia, Gilbert Phiri, confirmed his client’s extradition to African News Agency in a telephonic interview.

“He has been sent to Zimbabwe via Chirundu despite the court order that we got,” he said.

Biti’s legal team said the lawmaker’s extradition smelt of “illegality and extra-judicial behaviour by Zambian authorities”, adding the latter’s actions breached international law.

The legal team said Zambian immigration authorities handed Biti, an opposition MDC Alliance signatory, over to Zimbabwe at 6 am Thursday despite them being served with a court order two hours earlier.

Biti slipped into Zambia Wednesday morning, running away from security forces in his home country, who had been tracking him for alleged electoral offences related to the August 1 deadly violence which rocked Harare.

A leaked police memo read that Biti’s escape was dramatic, as Zimbabwean authorities apprehended him at the border post-Wednesday morning, but were blocked from taking the lawmaker back to Zimbabwe by about 300 cross-border traders, as well as Zambian police, who claimed he was now on foreign territory.

It was reported Wednesday that Zambian authorities had denied Biti asylum on the grounds that his reasons were not meritorious.

“He came here trying to seek asylum, but the grounds on which he wanted to apply for asylum did not meet the requirement as required by law,” Zambia’s foreign affairs minister Joseph Malanji told Zimbabwe’s State-owned The Herald.

But the opposition lawmaker approached the Zambian courts challenging the decision by authorities in that country to deny him asylum status and deport him back to Zimbabwe.

He also sought leave to stay the same decision pending determination of his asylum application by the courts.

“In the meantime, the applicant is to remain in the custody of Zambian immigration officials who will facilitate his appearance before Judge Yangailo at High Court in Lusaka,” Justice Getrude Chawatama had ruled early Thursday morning before the extradition.

A Zambian civic society organisation had said the reasons Biti was being denied asylum were “not meritorious” and urged the authorities there to carry out a “thorough investigation on the alleged danger of his [Biti] life coming from the Zimbabwean authorities”.

Said GEARS Initiative executive director McDonald Chipenzi: “Instead, the escapee must be accommodated more, especially that the person seeing the danger is not those found in the house, but the escapee.

“Therefore, if Zambia deports Hon Biti back to Zimbabwe, the country would have violated her own laws as provided for in the Zambia Refugee Act 2017, 11(4) which states ‘a person who applies for recognition as a refugee … has the right to remain in Zambia’.”

The Zimbabwean government has intensified a crackdown on opposition politicians and activists following their demonstrations against alleged electoral fraud by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.

The MDC Alliance is disputing the presidential results of the July 30 elections and is set to mount an electoral court challenge by Friday to challenge the presidential election result.

– African News Agency (ANA)