20 March 2013

Zimbabwe: Police Motives Questioned Over Targeting of PM Aides

Photo: Leadership
The scales of justice.

Serious questions are being asked about the targeting of a group of aides in the Prime Minister's office, who have been remanded in custody for the next two weeks.

Four people, including three former public prosecutors, Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde and Mehluli Tshuma, as well as a Harare City councillor Warship Dumba, were arrested on Sunday and then denied bail on Wednesday. They have been remanded in custody until April 3rd.

Mpofu, Matsinde and Dumba are all members of staff in the research division of the Prime Minister' office. Tshuma is believed to have been assisting the research team.

The four were arrested on Sunday after a police blitz that included unwarranted searches of their homes and of the home of a fourth member of staff in the Prime Minister's office, Anna Muzvidziwa.

Mpofu's lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, was also arrested after asking the police to produce a search warrant.

The Avondale based communications office of the Prime Minister was also later searched by police.

The arrested group was held and questioned for several hours at Harare Central Police station. Anna Muzvidziwa was later released into the custody of her lawyer and will be called on as a state witness in the case against her colleagues.

But the five others, including Mtetwa, have remained locked up since Sunday Mpofu, Matsinde, Tshuma and Dumba have been formally charged for allegedly impersonating police, possession of articles for criminal use and breaching the Official Secrets Act. Mtetwa has also been charged for allegedly 'obstructing the course of justice'.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has insisted that the four individuals arrested on Sunday are members of his staff, after the police claimed they were employed by an NGO group called IDA-Zimbabwe. The police spokesperson Charity Charamba said the Prime Minister's communications office 'belonged' to IDA-Zim.

"To try and bring them into the Prime Minister's Office is mischief. They are not civil servants assigned to the Prime Minister's Office by the Public Service Commission. Some of them have been suspended by the civil service and some of them have been fired," Charamba was quoted as saying by the state run Herald newspaper.

The Prime Minster then responded, stating: "I notice from some press reports that our Communications Office in Avondale is now being referred to as the office of some non-governmental organization. The motive for that is certainly sinister."

McDonald Lewanika, the Director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, said on Wednesday that "there is more than meets the eye in this case," saying the police's motives for targeting the four accused was 'suspicious'.

There are suggestions that the police are after Mpofu and his three co-accused because they were compiling a dossier that would reveal massive corruption by some senior government officials.

Lewanika told SW Radio Africa that the case against the four "is not about them doing anything wrong, but may be about them being in possession of information that incriminates senior members of the police force and the government.

"ZANU PF and those who support them and the repressive arms of the state have seen the kind of impact that the release of this information has. So they are trying to clamp down on this. And that is why the four are being targeted," Lewanika said.

He meanwhile said that the police's claims that an NGO is funding the research arm of the prime Minister's office was an attempt to side-track observers from the real case.

"If indeed they worked for IDA-Zim, what is the issue? Working for the PM or an NGO is not a crime. Doing research is not a crime. The police need to explain their motives for this," Lewanika said.

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