Lawyers for Tendai Biti secretary general of the Tsvangirai faction of the Movement for Democratic Change lodged 11 complaints against the State for his ill-treatment in jail since his arrest on 12 June.
Biti, who had already appeared in court three times before his trial on 7 July, was facing four charges in connection with a “Transition Strategy Document” he allegedly authored on 25 March 2008.
The State alleged that the document had provoked the violence that had now engulfed the country.
Biti’s lawyers laid out 11 complaints against the State concerning the manner of his arrest and his treatment in jail.
The judge ordered an investigation into the allegations of mistreatment and mishandling of Biti.
Biti was, however, denied bail but was transferred to Harare Central Prison, where conditions were slightly better.
He was also given access to a doctor.
Viewing cable 08HARARE532, BITI MISTREATED IN JAIL, DENIED BAIL
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E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/23/2018
SUBJECT: BITI MISTREATED IN JAIL, DENIED BAIL
REF: HARARE 513
Classified By: Ambassador James D. McGee for reason 1.4(d).
¶1. (SBU) The Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC)
Secretary General, Tendai Biti, appeared in a Harare court on
June 17, 18 and 19 where he was charged with four counts,
including treason, which carries the death penalty. Lawyers
lodged 11 complaints against the State for his treatment in
jail and the circumstances of his June 12 arrest and also
unsuccessfully sought to have the case thrown out. Biti’s
request for bail was denied by the Acting Attorney General,
Bharat Patel, who is the only official who can decide on bail
in the case of treason. Biti, normally animated and
gregarious, appeared stonefaced and dejected, but physically
unharmed. Morgan Tsvangirai, President of the MDC, quietly
observed the proceedings for several hours on the morning of
June 18 from the front row of the overflowing courtroom.
Biti is due to reappear in court on June 25 to appeal for
bail before his July 7 trial date. END SUMMARY.
Charges against Biti
¶2. (U) The MDC’s second in command, Secretary General Tendai
Biti, faces four charges in connection with a “Transition
Strategy Document” he allegedly authored on March 25, 2008.
He faces charges of treason, publishing a document
prejudicial to the State, causing disaffection within the
police force, and insulting the President. The four charges
all stem from a document that Biti allegedly authored but
that did not have his letterhead or a signature even
resembling his own. In an Orwellian line of reasoning, the
prosecuting attorney alleged the document had provoked
violence throughout Zimbabwe. “By authoring that document he
caused what has happened to happen,” she said. The document
was first published in the government mouthpiece, The Herald,
although the prosecution alleges the GOZ found it on the
Internet. Biti’s lawyers argued that the case should be
thrown out because they could prove Biti did not author the
document. The judge, however, ruled there was adequate
evidence to keep the case open.
¶3. (U) Biti’s lawyers laid out 11 complaints against the
State concerning the manner of his arrest and his treatment
in jail. The complaints are also illustrative of the
non-transparency of the judicial system. They are as follows:
(a) Biti was “abducted” when he was arrested on the tarmac at
12:30 p.m. local time at Harare International Airport on June
¶12. He was transported by a Mercedes Benz to a jail before
he had even passed through immigration.
(b) On arrest, Biti was not told of the charges against him.
Lawyers now know police had a warrant, but it was never
presented to Biti.
(c) For the first 48 hours of his detention, Biti was denied
access to legal counsel, even as his lawyers were trying
desperately to ascertain his location. Only after the High
Court issued an order of habeas corpus on June 14 were his
lawyers given access to him. Even then, lawyers could only
talk with Biti in the presence of three armed guards and
HARARE 00000532 002 OF 003
(d) Biti was questioned continuously from 9:00 p.m. on June
12 until 11 a.m. on June 13 — 19 hours — without any sleep
or rest, and without access to his legal counsel. He was
interrogated by three teams of eight people and was forced to
write three statements on issues unrelated to his arrest. He
was forced to write a statement on why Zimbabwe must have a
government of national unity, to discuss his personal
preferences for the model of state most appropriate for
Zimbabwe, and to discuss the content of MDC-ZANU-PF
negotiations he had on behalf of the MDC with ZANU-PF
ministers Patrick Chinamasa and Nicholas Goche. He was also
asked to write a statement on why the SADC initiative had
(e) Biti was not given any food or drink during his first 48
hours of detention.
(f) He was detained in inhuman circumstances. He was held in
a police station that was previously declared unfit for human
inhabitation by the Zimbabwean Supreme Court. At the police
station, he slept in a crowded, unsanitary cell. He and his
cellmates were not provided with enough blankets to protect
them from the elements, as there is no glass in the cell
windows. Biti had only been allowed to bathe twice in the
previous 7 days.
(g) The warrant for his arrest indicated he should have been
brought to court “as soon as possible”, but he was not
brought until June 18, 7 days later.
(h) Biti was continuously kept in handcuffs when he was out
of his cell, despite being accompanied continuously by three
armed guards. (NOTE: On June 17, the judge ordered the
handcuffs and leg irons removed. END NOTE.)
(i) Biti’s post office box and laptop were searched without a
warrant on June 16. Police copied documents from Biti’s
computer without a warrant. Despite a protest to police,
there is still no warrant for the laptop.
(j) Police never notified Biti’s lawyers of Biti’s June 17
court date. His lawyer only learned of the court hearing
when he went to deliver Biti food on the same day.
(k) Biti was never informed of one of the counts that was
included in the warrant.
¶4. (U) The judge ordered an investigation into the
allegations of mistreatment and mishandling of Biti, which is
due on July 3. Late on Friday June 20, the Acting Attorney
General instructed the magistrate in the case to deny bail.
Biti’s lawyers are scheduled to appeal the bail decision on
June 25. Poloff spoke with one of Biti’s lawyers on June 24
who confirmed that Biti had been transferred to Harare
Central Prison, where conditions are slightly better and Biti
has been given access to a doctor.
¶5. (C) While the Biti trial is largely a show of
intimidation toward the opposition and a demonstration that
ZANU-PF is all powerful, the allegations he faces are very
serious. While Biti appears to be in a safer, healthier
environment now than during his initial detention, all of
HARARE 00000532 003 OF 003
Harare’s jails are now seriously overcrowded and political
prisoners are subject to extensive, unlawful questioning.
Given ZANU-PF’s intent to cripple the MDC and the pro-ZANU-PF
bias of almost all judges, we are not optimistic Biti will be
released soon. We understand that South African president
Thabo Mbeki raised Biti’s detention last week with Zimbabwean
president Robert Mugabe, and his release as a result of
behind the scenes pressure from Mbeki and/or SADC may present
the best hope. END COMMENT.