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Soldiers sexually abused MDC election agents: Biti

In this file photo taken on June 01, 2018 MDC Alliance Spokesperson Tendai Biti speaks during a press conference during which he announced that Zimbabwe's opposition parties are calling for electoral reforms ahead of the July 30 general elections and that there will be street demonstrations in the capital Harare on June 5. (AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA)
Tendai Biti

Biti appeared emotional while announcing the cases during a court hearing on Friday.

Zambian immigration authorities rejected a request for asylum by Biti — whose People’s Democratic Party had formed an election alliance with opposition leader Nelson Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — after he fled post-election violence and certain arrest in Zimbabwe.

He was deported back to Zimbabwe where he was taken into police custody.

Biti was charged with political violence and falsely and unlawfully announcing results of the election.

State prosecutors did not oppose bail, which was set at $5 000.

If found guilty Biti faces up to 10 years in jail, a cash fine or both.

During a narration of his persecution ordeal which forced him to seek political asylum in neighbouring Zambia, Biti alleged authorities were hell-bent on persecuting him for challenging President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s flawed election win. He said MDC Alliance agents suffered despicable abuse at the hands of the “junta.”

He said it was hard to imagine the outrage that election agents working for the MDC Alliance felt after being sexually abused.

He said the MDC Alliance was doing everything it possibly can to assist the victims, to bring accountability and justice and hopefully to prevent any such cases from recurring in future elections.

He said several election agents from Buhera to Mutoko accused troops of sexual abuse and called for an investigation into the accusations.

Biti told the court that a female representative in Buhera had reported how she was raped and threatened after refusing to sign another V11 form and how most of their male election agents would be sodomised, specifically in Mutoko.

“I felt that the regime which had had just seven months in office had escalated the abuses. There was massive onslaught on our election agents,” Biti said.

“In Buhera, a woman was raped after refusing to sign another V11 form. We were also getting reports of onslaughts on our people being sodomised and raped across the country specifically in Mutoko, but nothing has been done by law enforcement agents in those respects.”

Questions sent to army spokesperson Overson Mugwisi were not responded to at the time of going to Press.

But the military spokesperson clarified at a press conference ahead of elections that they will only assist the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) with logistics during elections.

“Our role in the elections is mainly to support the ZRP in their role of maintenance of the law and order in the country before, during and after the harmonised elections. We also remain ready to assist Zec with transport where necessary. Beyond that, the ZDF remains ready to defend our country’s territorial integrity and interests,” he said.

He had earlier said the ZDF had no direct role in the elections.

“We are disturbed by false reports alleging that the ZDF is going to be used by Zanu PF to rig the vote,” he said.

“I want to raise concern over some individuals who mischievously and deliberately portray the execution of our mandate as participating in political campaigns.

“Falsehoods that have been reported include allegations of ZDF deployments in rural areas to intimidate villagers so that they support a certain political party’s chances of winning in the 2018 harmonised elections.

“We urge people who are not sure or doubt the genuine role being played by the ZDF in this election to feel free to check with us and clear their suspicions. If some serving members are participating in the on-going political campaigns, they will be doing so illegally and not as a result of an instruction from their commanders.

“Those with information on such misconduct should provide us with full details of such individuals to enable appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against them. They can also report the suspicious characters to the nearest police station,” he said.

Biti said police officers that handled complaints coming from the opposition elections agents but did not take any action and the matters were never investigated.

Biti condemned the conduct of the military for opening fire on unarmed civilians in a demonstration that rocked Harare on August 1 and defended his comments on the election results.

“Our fears were a repeat of the 2008 experience. I have been a rights lawyer and activist since 1999 and over the years, arrested on countless occasions. My house has been bombed twice but this time the levels of attack were unprecedented.

“What shocked me were reports that soldiers had opened fire on unarmed civilians and seven people died and more than 40 injured,” he said.

“After visiting some of the victims with Advocate Chamisa, we heard horrific stories, stories of men having their privates split by bullets,” he said.

Security forces used disproportionate force to clamp down on post-election protests in Harare on August 1, 2018. Soldiers and riot police were implicated in the deaths of at least six people and serious injuries to dozens more.

Hundreds of soldiers and riot police were deployed across the city, as residents awaited the result of the July 30 national elections.

Scores of soldiers patrolled on foot, indiscriminately beating anyone in sight as two helicopters in military camouflage colours flew several times over the MDC headquarters.

The police confirmed the death of at least six people, though there are fears that the death toll could be higher.

“The heavy-handed response to Zimbabwe’s post-election protests, including firing live ammunition, suggests that the security forces are as abusive as ever,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch

“Prompt, credible investigations are needed so that those responsible can be held to account and future violence is avoided.” Daily News.