Biti’s lawyer, aides plead not guilty as “border jumping” trial commences

By Court Reporter

A LAWYER and some aides for tormented opposition party leader and
human rights lawyer Tendai Biti on Wednesday 10 April 2019 pleaded not
guilty to charges of violating the country’s immigration laws when
their trial commenced before Karoi Provincial Magistrate Sam Chitumwa.

Hon. Biti’s lawyer Nqobizitha Mahole Mlilo aged 39 and the Harare East
constituency legislator’s aides Clever Rambanepasi aged 41 and Tawanda
Blessing Chitekwe aged 36 are on trial on charges of failing to
present oneself to an immigration official as defined in Section 25(1)
as read with Section 25 (5a) of the Immigration Act.

Mlilo, Rambanepasi and Chitekwe, who are out of custody on $100 bail
each, were arrested in August 2018 together with Hon. Biti and charged
with contravening the country’s immigration laws after they allegedly
departed Zimbabwe on Wednesday 8 August 2018 at an unauthorised port
of exit.

Prosecutors claimed that Mlilo, Rambanepasi and Chitekwe, who are
represented by Jeremiah Bamu of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights(ZLHR),
connived at Chirundu One Stop Border post in Mashonaland West province
and hatched a plan to enter Zambia by evading immigration clearance
procedures from both Zimbabwe and Zambia and got arrested by officials
from the Zimbabwean side of the border post.

Mlilo, Rambanepasi and Chitekwe, the state claimed, failed to produce
passports to both immigration authorities from Zambia and Zimbabwe to
validate their exit and entry.

The State led by Prosecutor Gerald Dhamusi was however left with an
egg on its face as it was forced to withdraw the main charge of
departing from Zimbabwe from a place other than a designated port of
entry as in its own submissions, Hon. Biti’s alleged accomplices had
“departed” Zimbabwe into Zambia through Chirundu One Stop Border Post,
a designated port of entry in terms of the paragraph 1 (Border with
Zambia) of the Part III (Entry or Departure by Road), of the Schedule
to the Immigration Regulations S.I 195/1998).

In denying the charge, Mlilo, Rambanepasi and Chitekwe argued that the
charge cited by the State of failing to present oneself to an
Immigration officer does not apply to asylum seekers such as Hon. Biti
and themselves.

The trio’s lawyer told Magistrate Chitumwa that his clients were
abducted from Zambia by Zimbabwean authorities led by Assistant
Commissioner Jealous Nyabasa currently attached to the Criminal
Investigations Department as the Deputy Director in the Zimbabwe
Republic Police Anti-Corruption Unit.

Nyabasa told the court that he was assigned to be the investigating
officer against Hon. Biti whom the police intended to charge for
alleged violations of the Electoral Act in the aftermath of the July
2018 harmonised elections.

In the scope of his investigations, Nyabasa said he wrote to the
Immigration Department informing the officials of persons wanted by
the police, which list included Hon. Biti and requested them to alert
its border posts to be on the lookout for the people on the ZRP wanted
list in case they attempted “to skip the border”.

Nyabasa claimed that he received information that Hon. Biti had been
seen at Chirundu One Stop Border Post on the Zambian side prompting
him to depart for Chirundu, where two Immigration Department officers
Florence Nyathi and Morgen Moyo handed Hon. Biti and his alleged
“accomplices” who had allegedly been deported from Zambia.

Nyabasa told Magistrate Chitumwa that he then took the four men to
Harare for further management.

Nyabasa was left embarrassed after trying to convince the court that
Hon. Biti’s alleged “accomplices” could not claim to be seeking asylum
as a result of political persecution since they were not on the police
wanted list.

He however failed to maintain this assertion when probed by Bamu
whether being on the police list was enough evidence of political
persecution and whether he was in fact confirming that the police was
a political organisation.

During trial, the State called Shingirai Chimedza, a senior
Immigration Department officer at Chirundu who gave testimony about
the entry and exit procedures and who however confirmed that the
provision under which Hon. Biti’s alleged “accomplices” were charged
under does not apply to asylum seekers, who are not required to comply
with exit and entry formalities but to subject themselves to the
authority of the host country in which they seek asylum.

Bamu told Magistrate Chitumwa that this is what Hon. Biti’s alleged
accomplices claim to have done after their lives were put at risk as
they were in the company of the legislator at Chirundu One Stop Border
Post when an attempt was made on Hon. Biti and their lives by
Zimbabwean security agents, who were attempting to abduct them from
Zambian soil.

Mlilo, Rambanapasi and Chitekwe’s trial continues on Wednesday 17 April 2019.