19 February 2019

Zimbabwe: Tendai Biti Found Guilty

MDC Alliance vice chairman Tendai Biti yesterday escaped jail by a whisker after he was slapped with a suspended six-month prison term for illegally announcing purported results for the 2018 Presidential elections.

The six-month prison sentence was wholly-suspended for five years on condition that Biti does not commit a similar offence within that period.

In addition, he was ordered to pay $200 fine or risk going to jail for seven days.

Biti was convicted on two counts of contravening the Electoral Act by regional magistrate Ms Gloria Takundwa after a full trial.

He announced that the MDC-Alliance had won the election and declared the party's leader Mr Nelson Chamisa as the winner.

The court ruled that the State managed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

"After hearing the mitigatory and aggravating factors and the fact that the penal provision of the section provides for a fine first, a fine coupled with a wholly-suspended prison term on condition of future good behaviour will meet the justice of the offence," she said.

Ms Takundwa treated both counts as one for purposes of sentencing.

Representing the prosecution, Mr Jonathan Murombedzi called for a prison term of up to a year for both counts, saying a fine or community service would trivialise the offence.

He said following the announcements by Biti, there was chaos in the country which led to deaths and destruction to property, hence Biti should be punished.

"This is not the first time for the convicted person to behave in this manner as he did the same in 2008 and he went scot-free and he still continues to behave in such a manner," he said.

"Given his previous behaviour, fine will trivialise the offence. As a senior member of a political party, he ought to conduct himself in a responsible manner.

"Elections were peaceful up to the time he made the announcements. A right signal must be sent to all citizens."

During mitigation, Biti, through his lawyer, Mr Alec Muchadehama, pleaded for the court's lenience and prayed for a fine.

Biti publicly declared MDC-Alliance candidate Mr Nelson Chamisa as the winner of last year's presidential election before the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) had made the official announcement, conduct which the court said was illegal as it had potential to undermine the official announcement by ZEC.

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