Skip to comments.Zimbabwe -- Journalist arrested at treason trial
Posted on 02/03/2003 3:47:09 AM PST by Clive
Harare - A freelance journalist was picked up by police on Monday as scores of independent and foreign journalists were barred from covering the treason trial of Zimbabwe's main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Ish Mafundikwa who freelances for several foreign and local organisations, including AFP, was taken away in a police car to a yet unknown destination.
Mafundikwa could not be reached on his mobile phone.
Riot police dispersed scores of journalists, lawyers and members of the public who were trying to gain entry into the High Court in the capital. Tsvangirai is charged with plotting the assassination of President Robert Mugabe, in an affair Tsvangirai and his supporters claim was a set-up.
Tsvangirai faces the death penalty if convicted of treason on the basis of a videocassette purportedly showing him discussing Mugabe's assassination with consultants in Canada.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said the release of the video in February last year, when it was aired on Australian television, was designed to sideline Tsvangirai ahead of the presidential election one month later.
Tsvangirai went on to lose to Mugabe by more than 400 000 votes in a result that was rejected by the MDC and most Western observers, who claimed the violence-marred poll was widely rigged.
On his arrival at the courthouse Monday he was hailed by about 200 supporters who were not able to enter the building blocked off by dozens of anti-riot police armed with batons.
Most journalists were barred from the courtroom but a number of diplomats apparently including US ambassador Joseph Sullivan were allowed in.
Tsvangirai was not accompanied by his two deputies, MDC Secretary General Welshman Ncube and shadow agriculture minister Renson Gasela, who are standing trial alongside the opposition leader.
Charges 'were brought as retribution'
The opposition claims the treason charges have been brought as retribution against Tsvangirai, a former trade unionist and the only opponent to have posed a serious threat to Mugabe during his 22 years in power.
Tsvangirai and his two deputies were allegedly filmed discussing Mugabe's elimination with a firm of Canadian consultants, headed by a former Isreali intelligence agent, Ari Ben Menashe.
Ben Menashe and his consultancy firm have turned out to be closely associated with Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
The former Mossad agent and some of his associates have visited the country to give statements to Zimbabwean police.
The MDC has confirmed that the three party officials met the consultants, but say the video footage was doctored to incriminate them.
The treason trial was initially scheduled for November, but the MDC lawyers successfully applied for a postponement so that they could receive a copy of the videotape, said to have been heavily edited.
The treason trial comes ahead of six World Cup cricket matches due to start here on February 13.
Commentators say it is an inconvenient time for the Zimbabwe government as it tries to present itself to the world as a stable, peace-loving and democratic host country.
Tsvangirai, who is free on bail but whose passport has been confiscated, is being represented in the trial by a top-notch legal team led by a South African lawyer who also represented Nelson Mandela during the apartheid years in South Africa. - Sapa-AFP