ZIMBABWE. GOVT WITHDRAWS TREASON CHARGES AGAINST OPPOSITION LEADER
August 2, 2005: Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was cleared of treason charges carrying a possible death sentence, which he described as a desperate ploy by the government to sideline its bitterest critic.
Tsvangirai, 53, was arrested in June 2003 and spent two weeks in jail following protests called by his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party that the government said were aimed at overthrowing President Robert Mugabe.
Prosecutor Florence Ziyambi told the Harare magistrateâs court that the state was âwithdrawing the charges before pleaâ without explaining the about-turn.
A conviction on treason charges carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe.
Wearing a grey suit and blue shirt, Tsvangirai showed no emotion when the magistrate read out the prosecutionâs decision.
But at a news conference later in the day, a jubilant Tsvangirai said the case was a feeble attempt by the government of President Robert Mugabe to deflect attention from the slew of political and economic crises bedevilling the southern African nation.
âThis one had no basis at all,â Tsvangirai told reporters at his Harare home. âLet me say this was a worthless attempt to divert attention from the issues confronting our nation.â
Tsvangirai said the government also used the charges to âtie me down so that I would not focus what the party should be doing.â
âAnd of course if you are two years in court, part of your efforts to refocus the party and refocus yourself are affected by that,â he said.
The opposition leader had denied that the week-long strikes and marches were aimed at toppling Mugabe, arguing that there were spontaneous demonstrations of public anger at the mounting hardships faced by Zimbabweans.
The former trade union leader who formed the MDC in late 1999 was also acquitted of treason in October last year after an almost six-month trial on separate charges of plotting to kill Mugabe, in power since independence in 1980. (Sources: Afp, 03/08/2005)