IN handing over Tendai Biti to Zimbabwe in defiance of a court order, you have ended any remaining pretence that you have respect for law and order, Laura Miti has told President Edgar Lungu. In court, Lusaka High Court judge Pixie Yangailo adjourned the matter in which Biti is seeking leave to commence judicial review proceedings against the government’s decision to deny him asylum.
And the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it is gravely concerned about reports of the forced return of Zimbabwe’s opposition leader and former finance minister Tendai Biti by Zambia to his country of origin. Meanwhile, Mike Mulongoti says it is sad that people who stole elections in Zambia are supporting those who stole in Zimbabwe.
Reacting to the deportation of Biti, who was seeking asylum in Zambia, Alliance for Community Action executive director Miti said in defying a High Court interdict, President Lungu and his administration was entirely lawless.
“Well done Edgar Lungu! In handing over Tendai Biti to Zimbabwe in defiance of a court order, you have ended any remaining pretence that you have respect for law and order. Phew! Now we can all stop pretending!” Miti wrote yesterday. “Zambians, I present to you a lawless man in State House who cares nothing about our reputation as a country. Who is King above courts. How much worse you want his lawlessness to go is up to you. Mine is to sound the drum that announces President Edgar Lungu and his administration as entirely lawless. P. S My heart goes out to the police and immigration officers who are being routinely forced to implement lawless orders. May a new day rise for all of us.”
On Wednesday, High Court judge Gertrude Chawatama ordered that Biti remains in the custody of the Zambian Immigration officers who should facilitate his appearance before judge Yangailo at 08:00 hours yesterday for the application for leave to be heard.
But when the case was called before judge Yangailo, Biti was not before court and reports indicated that he had been handed back to Zimbabwean authorities against a High Court order that he remains in the custody of Immigration officers.
Biti’s lawyers in Zambia, Keith Mweemba, Gilbert Phiri, and Mulambo Haimbe made appearances in court and applied that the case be adjourned to enable them make applications. Biti’s lawyers want to institute contempt proceedings against the authorities for allegedly disobeying a court order.
The lawyers asked judge Yangailo not to proceed with the application for leave to apply for judicial review but adjourn it to allow them to make submissions as regards alleged disobedience of the order which judge Chawatama granted them on Wednesday. The State objected to the application to adjourn the matter saying it was ready to proceed but judge Yangailo adjourn it to a date to be communicated.
UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch stated that it was reported that the authorities in Zambia had handed Biti over to his country of origin yesterday despite a court order to the contrary.
“Refoulement or forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law. UNHCR calls on Zambia to investigate this reported incident urgently,” stated Baloch. And Mulongoti said it was sad that people who stole elections in Zambia were supporting those who stole the vote in Zimbabwe.
He said President Lungu had broken SADC protocol that protects the political asylum seekers.
“You have heard of Mr. Tendai Biti. He was declared the best finance minister few years ago in Zimbabwe. He has been in politics for a long time. Unfortunately, there is dispute of elections in Zimbabwe. He ran to Zambia for sanctuary because politicians are fond of pursuing each other. He managed to cross into Zambia and made a formal application for asylum, and then the lawyers went ahead to do a court order. They [State] ignored the court order,” said Mulongoti.
On his part, Chishimba Kambwili said it was unfortunate that Zambia’s foreign affairs minister Joseph Malanji did not understand anything about his Ministry.
“The Zambia Police and Immigration officers with impunity handed over Tendai Biti. And the international law is very clear that if a person comes to seek asylum in your country and if as a country you don’t want that person, you allow him to exit to the next country for him to go and try his luck, to get asylum. You cannot get a person and hand him over to the country he is running away from. He might be running away from war, political persecution…you cannot do that as a country. And to make matters worse, Tendai, through his lawyers, had obtained a court order instructing the immigration to bring him to court today in Lusaka so that he could be heard. But Edgar Lungu’s government with impunity, allows the Zambia Police and Immigration officers to go and hand him over to ZANU-PF government in Zimbabwe,” Kambwili said.
“Now, if this country does not respect the opposition, they should not transfer it to other countries because this is a pure case of them supporting the ruling party in Zimbabwe without due respect to the opposition.”
He urged Malanji to resign.
“Next time it will be a Zambian, it may even be President Lungu with his thieving and corruption. He may be seeking political asylum after 2021. If he is going to be treated like that in Zimbabwe…Zimbabweans regard Zambia as their second home just as Zambians regard Zimbabwe as their second home. So, this behaviour by President Edgar Lungu and his foreign affairs minister…that is why, you go and pick bakabova (a thug) from the golf club as foreign affairs minister…that’s how you end up. If this Malanji was a foreign affairs minister worth his salt like I was, like Harry Kalaba was, like Given Lubinda was, he was not going to make this mistake,” said Kambwili.
Green Party president Peter Sinkamba demanded that government grants Biti political asylum because circumstances surrounding “his persecution in Zimbabwe” were discriminatory and mere witch-hunt.
“Additionally, we believe that such action by government is an embarrassment in the eyes of the international community and only goes to prove incoherence of the Zambian government on foreign policy. We are aware that government has in the past protected and even granted asylum to aliens suspected to have committed serious crimes in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere in the world,” said Sinkamba.