Biti ill-treated in jail

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.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 08HARARE532, BITI MISTREATED IN JAIL, DENIED BAIL

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

08HARARE532

2008-06-23 16:32

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

VZCZCXRO1262

OO RUEHDU RUEHMR RUEHRN

DE RUEHSB #0532/01 1751632

ZNY CCCCC ZZH

O 231632Z JUN 08

FM AMEMBASSY HARARE

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3065

INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY

RUEHAR/AMEMBASSY ACCRA 2080

RUEHDS/AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA 2200

RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN 0742

RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1477

RUEHDK/AMEMBASSY DAKAR 1835

RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 2256

RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 4687

RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

RUZEJAA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

RHMFISS/EUCOM POLAD VAIHINGEN GE

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1346

RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 000532

 

SIPDIS

 

AF/S FOR S. HILL

ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU

ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS

STATE PASS TO USAID FOR E. LOKEN AND L. DOBBINS

STATE PASS TO NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B. PITTMAN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/23/2018

TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEC PHUM KDEM ZI

SUBJECT: BITI MISTREATED IN JAIL, DENIED BAIL

 

REF: HARARE 513

 

Classified By: Ambassador James D. McGee for reason 1.4(d).

 

------

SUMMARY

-------

 

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.

 

-----------------

Biti's complaints

-----------------

 

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

 

 

police.

 

(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

failed.

 

(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.

 

-----------

Bail denied

-----------

 

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.

 

-------

COMMENT

-------

 

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.

 

McGee

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