Zimbabwean Opposition Leader Denied BailBy Peta Thornycroft
20 June 2008

A week before the second round of voting in Zimbabwe's presidential election, officials have refused to grant bail to jailed opposition leader Tendai Biti. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare that Biti will go on trial accused of treason and subversion.

Tendai Biti, Secretary General of the MDC, (in a red sweater) appears in court in Harare, Zimbabwe, 19 June 2008There has been shock in legal circles that Tendai Biti, who is a widely respected lawyer, will have to go on trial.

His lawyers on Thursday had requested a dismissal of the charges against him, saying the state's case had no chance of success because it was based entirely on a document, which Biti said he could prove he did not write.

Biti's lawyers said the state's case depended on a document which described what the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) would do during the transition from President Robert Mugabe to rule by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, should he win the presidential poll scheduled for June 27.

Biti is charged on four counts including treason and subverting the government. Recently appointed attorney, General Bharat Patel, instructed the magistrate's court to deny Biti bail.

Biti was arrested minutes after he arrived at Harare international airport a week ago.

Biti is a popular and respected member of Zimbabwe's legal community and many of his colleagues have been in court to hear the case against him. Several expressed shock that the charges would continue. Several were outraged when he was denied bail.

Biti's legal team will now appeal to the High Court Tuesday to reverse the decision to refuse bail.

Tendai Biti holds press conference in Johannesburg, 20 Apr 2008In addition there are now fears that Biti's health is not good and that his colleagues are worried about his blood pressure. Lawyers say if he is denied medical treatment in police cells they will go to court to try and force the state to allow him to see a doctor.

Biti had been the MDC's negotiator in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) yearlong mediation of the Zimbabwe crisis. Two days before he was arrested he was engaged in talks with Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF in Pretoria. These talks are facilitated by South African president Thabo Mbeki who wants Mr. Mugabe to cancel the run-off election and enter into negotiations immediately for a government of national unity.

The MDC says more than 70 supporters have been killed in political violence and that it is not able to campaign for its presidential candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai. MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said Friday the party will decide on Monday whether Mr. Tsvangirai who easily won the first round of voting against Mr Mugabe, will call for a boycott of the second round.

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