3 June 2019

Zimbabwe: Court Acquits Biti's Lawyer, Aides

Karoi Magistrate Sam Chitumwa on Friday 31 May 2019 acquitted three aides of human rights lawyer and opposition political party leader Honourable Tendai Biti, who had been on trial for allegedly violating the country's immigration laws.

Biti's lawyer Nqobizitha Mahole Mlilo and two of the opposition legislator's aides Clever Rambanepasi, and Tawanda Blessing Chitekwe had been on trial on charges of failing to present themselves to an immigration official as defined in Section 25(1) as read with section 25(5a) of the Immigration Act.

However, Magistrate Chitumwa found Mlilo, Rambanepasi and Chitekwe not guilty at the end of the State case and acquitted them after ruling that the State failed to disprove the trio's defence in which they stated that they were asylum seekers when they left the country to enter into Zambia at the time when Honourable Biti was hounded out of Zimbabwe.

Magistrate Chitumwa also ruled that in the absence of evidence by the State supporting its argument that the trio was not seeking asylum, there is no basis to put them to their defence.

Mlilo, Rambanepasi and Chitekwe, who were out of custody on $100 bail each, were arrested in August 2018 together with Honourable Biti and charged with contravening the country's immigration laws after they allegedly departed Zimbabwe on August 8, 2018 through an unauthorized port of exit.

Prosecutors claimed that the trio, represented by Jeremiah Bamu of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, connived at Chirundu One-Stop Border post in Mashonaland West Province and hatched a plan to enter Zambia by evading immigration clearance procedures from both Zimbabwe and Zambia. They were arrested by officials from the Zimbabwean side of the border post.

The State claims that the trio failed to produce passports to both immigration authorities from Zambia and Zimbabwe to validate their exit and entry.

The State led by prosecutor Gerald Dhamusi was however, forced to withdraw the main charge of departing from Zimbabwe from a place other than a designated port of entry as in its own submissions, Honourable Biti's alleged accomplices had "departed" Zimbabwe into Zambia through Chirundu One-Stop Border Post, a designated port of entry in terms of the paragraph 1 (Border with Zambia) of the Part III (Entry or Departure by Road), of the Schedule to the Immigration Regulations S.I195/1998).

In denying the charge, the trio argued that the charge cited by the State of failing to present oneself to an Immigration officer does not apply to asylum seekers such as Honourable Biti, his lawyer and aides.

Bamu told Magistrate Chitumwa that his clients were abducted from Zambia by Zimbabwean authorities led by assistant commissioner Jealous Nyabasa, currently attached to the Criminal Investigations Department as the deputy director in the Zimbabwe Republic Police Anti-Corruption Unit.

Nyabasa told the court that he was assigned to be the investigating officer against Honourable Biti whom the police intended to charge for alleged violations of the Electoral Act in the aftermath of the July 2018 harmonised elections.

In the scope of his investigations, Nyabasa said he wrote to the Immigration Department informing the officials of persons wanted by the police, which included Honourable Biti and requested them to alert its border posts to be on the lookout for the people on the ZRP wanted list in case they attempted "to skip the border".

Nyabasa claimed that he received information that Honourable Biti had been seen at Chirundu One-Stop Border Post on the Zambian side, prompting him to depart for Chirundu, where two Immigration Department officers, Florence Nyathi and Morgan Moyo handed Honourable Biti and his alleged "accomplices" who had allegedly been deported from Zambia.

Nyabasa told Magistrate Chitumwa that he then took them to Harare for further management.

Nyabasa failed to convince the court that Honourable Biti's alleged "accomplices" could not claim to be seeking asylum as a result of political persecution since they were not on the police wanted list.

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