February 18, 2004

ZIMBABWE: Security laws tightened while charges against Sibanda withdrawn / New parliamentary elections in March 2005

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has given himself powers of detention that allow people to be held in prison for up a month without legal process on charges of "subversion," the opposition Movement for Democratic Change has claimed. The state-owned press reported at the weekend that sweeping presidential powers wielded by Mugabe banned judges or magistrates from giving bail to suspects, but only in cases of money-laundering, fraud and illegal foreign currency and gold trading.

However, as MDC secretary for legal affairs David Coltart has said, scrutiny of the decree had revealed that the law also applied to a wide range of offences under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), including "attempting to coerce" the government through boycotts, strikes, civil disobedience or "resistance to the law."

In the meantime, Gibson Sibanda, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) vice-president, has walked out of the regional magistrates' courts a free man after the state withdrew charges against the former trade unionist and his colleagues who were facing charges of attempting to overthrow the government. The charges against Sibanda, Milton Gwetu, the MDC legislator for Mpopoma and other top executives of the main opposition party in Matabeleland were withdrawn before plea. Other top MDC members discharged with Sibanda and Gwetu over the case included Getrude Mthombeni, a national executive member, and Abraham Mdlongwa, the MDC provincial chairperson for Bulawayo. Sibanda and his colleagues were being charged with violating section 5 of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) by calling and organising last year's mass action.

In a separate development, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe called parliamentary elections for March next year, and said he had no intention of retiring, damping hopes for a start to formal talks on a settlement and early presidential elections. Mugabe said the elections would take place in March, three months ahead of the latest allowed by the constitution. Mugabe furthermore emphasised that he had no plans to retire from political life. He promised voters "the consolidation of the land reform programme and the empowerment of the majority of Zimbabweans" if his party was re-elected. (Business Day, Johannesburg / SAPA / Financial Gazette, Harare)


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