US Demands Opposition Leader's Release

The Daily News (Harare), 18 June 2003

THE United States government yesterday demanded the release from detention and the dismissal of treason charges levelled against opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

US Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher said Tsvangirai's continued detention by the State was indefensible and that the treason charges he was facing were “spurious”.

“The prolonged and continuing detention of Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai on spurious treason charges, as well as President Robert Mugabe's public statements mocking Mr Tsvangirai and welcoming his imprisonment are indefensible,” Boucher said in a statement.

He added: “The prosecution's assertion that ‘merely postulating or contemplating can be to commit treason’ underscores the lack of credible cases against Mr Tsvangirai. The treason charges against him should be dropped and he should be released.”

Tsvangirai has spent the last 12 days in detention, which Mugabe has said will teach the opposition party leader “a lesson”.

The MDC president was arrested on the last day of anti-government protests called by his party two weeks ago, which shut down most of industry and commerce and brought most of Zimbabwe to a halt for five days.

He has been slapped with fresh treason charges for allegedly making statements advocating the unconstitutional removal of Mugabe from office.

The MDC however says the mass action was merely supposed to press the Zimbabwean leader to agree to talks for a negotiated political settlement.

Tsvangirai, who is already charged with treason for allegedly plotting to assassinate Mugabe in the run-up to last year's presidential election, has applied for bail. The High Court has yet to make a ruling on the application.

The United States yesterday said Mugabe should stop fomenting the harassment of opposition leaders on spurious charges and address the causes of the crisis that has caused widespread opposition to his government.

The Zimbabwean government is widely blamed for the economic crisis that has caused unprecedented suffering and which analysts say has increased support for the MDC among Zimbabweans.

Boucher said: “President Mugabe must stop fomenting harassment of opposition leaders on spurious charges. He urgently needs to address the causes of the crisis that is creating such deep and widespread opposition to his government.

“Vital steps include engaging in dialogue with the opposition and respecting its political rights, restoring the rule of law and ceasing human rights abuses, including arrests and beatings of opposition politicians and supporters”.

The US said until Zimbabwe resolved its political crisis, any efforts to address the country's economic crisis would be futile.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1980, dramatised by soaring inflation, severe foreign currency shortages, company closures and worsening unemployment.

The US State Department's statement on Zimbabwe comes amid reports that southern African leaders are working with Western governments to pressure Harare into releasing Tsvangirai from detention.

Diplomats say there are fears that the MDC leader's continued detention could hamper efforts to facilitate talks between Zimbabwe's main political parties.

Boucher's statement also comes after comments by US Senate Africa Sub-committee chairman Lamar Alexander advocating a change of leadership in Harare.

Addressing the US Senate last week, Alexander said: “Mr President, the White House and the State Department have responded to the crisis in Zimbabwe, and I hope I will continue to work to achieve a change of leadership in Zimbabwe.”

He added: “Mr President, the people of Zimbabwe deserve better. They deserve better than a regime that commits violence on its people. They deserve better than to see their economic infrastructure destroyed by a dictator on the rampage, and they have been standing up for themselves by actively demonstrating against this terrible regime.

“I hope other countries in the region will join with the United States and others in opposing this brutal regime in the hope of bringing new, democratic leadership to power in Zimbabwe.”