/ 12 June 2003

Bizos fights to save Tsvangirai

George Bizos, representing Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on Thursday urged the release of his client on the second day of a bail hearing, saying refusal of bail would amount to ”detention without trial”.

Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was arrested last Friday and charged with treason for allegedly inciting his supporters to overthrow President Robert Mugabe’s government.

He denies the charge, which carries a death sentence on conviction.

Tsvangirai’s lawyers have been trying to secure bail for him at the Harare High Court. The government opposes bail.

”The purpose of the accused’s [Tsvangirai’s] arrest and the opposition of bail was to silence him,” Bizos told the court.

The charges against Tsvangirai stem from his party’s call for mass action against the government last week.

The party says it called for job stayaways and democracy marches to show the people’s anger against the government, which it blames for severe economic and social hardships.

But the government said the call for mass action was tantamount to a coup. The state has opposed bail for Tsvangirai, saying it fears the MDC leader will commit ”similar offences” if he is released from custody.

But Bizos said the state had presented contradictory and unsupported evidence that Tsvangirai and his party advocated the violent overthrow of Mugabe’s government.

He said no allegation had been made by the state that Tsvangirai would abscond if granted bail.

”It would start a downward trend if the court’s power to grant bail will be abused to keep political opponents of the government in prison,” he argued before High Court Judge Susan Mavhangira.

The state was due to present its case later on Thursday.

Tsvangirai has so far spent six nights in police cells.

MDC secretary general Welshman Ncube, who was arrested earlier this week on similar charges to Tsvangirai, was later released and the charges against him dropped.

Both Tsvangirai and Ncube, and a third MDC official, Renson Gasela, are currently standing trial for allegedly plotting Mugabe’s elimination ahead of last year’s presidential elections, which Tsvangirai lost.

The three deny the charges. – Sapa-AFP