/ 30 July 2011

Zim guard faces jail for alleged Mugabe slur

A security guard faces up to 12 months in jail because of remarks on the Zimbabwe president’s health and a taunt over a snack of biscuits and a fruity milk drink, his lawyer said on Friday.

After years of acute shortages of food and confectionary, the guard allegedly told a colleague that President Robert Mugabe ruined the economy and empty store shelves were only restocked by the former opposition party with cookies and soft drinks that his pro-Mugabe colleagues ate for lunch.

Attorney Jeremiah Bamu said Friday the guard is charged with “undermining the authority” of Mugabe and goes to court on August 12.

He said no witnesses overheard the remarks that include an alleged reference to Mugabe’s likely death from illness. It is the latest case in a spate of charges and arrests over alleged presidential insults that carry a maximum penalty of a year in prison and have drawn in ministers and lawmakers of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party.

Bamu said guard Zebediah Mpofu, employed at a private security firm, was reported to police by his colleague, a known supporter of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party.

He said an increasing number of reports came from the workplace, conversations eavesdropped by plain clothes security agents on commuter buses and even from authorised political rallies.

“It is an attempt to gag political views,” he said.

The independent Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group has identified one man, Gift Masuka, as already serving a year-long sentence for cursing Mugabe with obscenities in southeastern Zimbabwe, where two students have also been accused of illegally downloading an animated video showing a fictional Mugabe assassination.

In the second city of Bulawayo on Monday, a court freed on bail two property owners, also to reappear in court in August, on allegations they told officials and militants of Mugabe’s party who inspected their land for seizure to “go and hang together with Mugabe”.

Since Mugabe called for early elections to bring the shaky 28-month coalition to an end, rights groups have reported a surge in political violence and intimidation.

At least five people in eastern Zimbabwe have been charged with insulting Mugabe by changing the words of songs used by his loyalists, saying in one of the songs: “Let’s work hard to remove this old man and install Tsvangirai.”

In May, a police officer was detained for two weeks for using a toilet reserved for Mugabe at a trade exposition. The next month a minister in Tsvangirai’s office was arrested for allegedly calling Mugabe a liar over his accounts of a crucial summit on Zimbabwe by regional mediators that Mugabe said had cleared his party of obstructing democratic reforms under the coalition.

A senior Tsvangirai lawmaker is still facing insult charges after he bowed to a portrait of Mugabe, compulsorily displayed in all public buildings and commercial businesses, and said: “How is your health, how is your eye?”

Mugabe’s office said the president had traveled to Singapore for an operation to remove an eye cataract but four later trips there this year were reportedly for further medical care.

Zimbabwe’s military chiefs have refused to salute Tsvangirai, a former labor leader who did not fight in the guerrilla war that swept Mugabe to power in 1980. According to the defense ministry, generals who have openly vowed their allegiance to Mugabe’s party are not compelled to salute civilians, but Mugabe remained as their commander in chief.

“The regulations are unclear. We’ve never had a coalition before. Traditionally, we have always saluted civilians at ceremonial occasions,” said Zimbabwe defense analyst Michael Quintana.

He said police and security services’ active role in defending the image and stature of Mugabe and his party was common in Africa, China and nations of the former Soviet Union.

“It is not modeled on Western concepts of the impartiality of the military and state institutions,” Quintana said. — Sapa-AP