Tendai Biti addresses parliament in Harare. Picture: SUPPLIED
Tendai Biti addresses parliament in Harare. Picture: SUPPLIED

Harare (Bloomberg) — Zimbabwean opposition figure Tendai Biti, who planned to seek political asylum in Zambia, will be charged with contravening Zimbabwe’s electoral law and public violence after he was sent back to his country.

Biti, a former finance minister who claims Zimbabwe’s July 30 election was rigged, attempted to cross to neighbouring Zambia on Wednesday. Zambian authorities subsequently detained him and eventually heeded the Zimbabwean government’s call for his return.

He will be charged with public violence and contravening electoral law by announcing "unofficial or false" results, Zimbabwe police said on Twitter.

"We will not be used as a country for those who want to run away from court to appear on charges," said Zambian Information Minister Dora Siliya. There’s no breakdown in law and order in Zimbabwe and citizens’ lives are not in danger to warrant Biti’s asylum bid, she said.

A Zambian court stayed the government’s decision to return Biti, but it was after he was sent home, according to Siliya. Court documents from the order cited six national laws and a regional protocol as reasons for granting Biti a Zambian court appearance.

Denied access

Biti’s lawyer in Zambia, Gilbert Phiri, disputed the government’s account, saying Zambian police were served with the court order at 4am

"The position of the Zambian government is not true," Phiri said by text message. "They refused to acknowledge service, but the order was posted on the door of the police offices at the border. Biti was removed from Zambia after 0600 hours in the morning."

Human rights advocate and Biti’s lead lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, demanded to see her client and his return to Zambia.

"Due to the traditional torture that abductees are generally subjected to in Zimbabwe, we also request that there be immediate access to a medical team," she said. Biti was previously arrested and tortured during Zimbabwe’s violent 2008 general election.

Reports said that ahead of his exit to Zambia an attempt had been made to kill him and an unnamed group had surrounded his mother’s home.

Biti, 51, was Zimbabwe’s finance minister between 2009 and 2013 when former President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party shared power with his political opponents after a disputed election that was marred by violence. July’s first post-Mugabe-era vote, in which President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner, has also seen turmoil and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change claiming victory.

‘Deeply disturbed’

The EU and ambassadors from the US, Australia and Canada issued a joint statement urging Zimbabwe’s government to guarantee Biti’s safety and said they were "deeply disturbed" by continuing reports of opposition supporters being the targets of security forces.

The UN Refugee Agency on Thursday expressed concern over the "forced return" of an unidentified "senior Zimbabwean politician" who intended to seek asylum in Zambia.

"Forcibly returning refugees and asylum seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law," it said in a statement.

Biti, who leads the opposition People’s Democratic Party in an alliance with the MDC, tried to cross into Zambia at a northern Zimbabwe border post.