Zimbabwean police arrest two opposition figures

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Police in Zimbabwe have arrested Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a breakaway faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the country's main opposition party. In addition, police arrested Eric Matinenga, an MDC legislator and lawyer to the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Arthur Mutambara was arrested at his house in Harare on Sunday, for writing a newspaper article critical of President Robert Mugabe. The April 20 article was published in The Standard, Zimbabwe's only privately-owned Sunday paper. It criticized the actions of the courts, judicial officials, and Mugabe's party in the March 29 elections, and accused Mugabe of using violence and vote rigging to leave the opposition "bludgeoned and brutalized."

On May 8, The Standard editor Davison Maruziva was arrested for publishing Mutambara's article. Maruziva was charged with publishing false statements prejudicial to the state and for contempt of court, the same charges now being held against Mutambara. The Standard has been critical of Mugabe and of the violence that followed the elections.

The BBC says Mutambara is the most senior opposition leader to be arrested so far. His lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, does not expect him to appear in court until Tuesday. "I am only expecting him in court on Tuesday as no questioning will take place today," Nkomo said. "The questioning will only start tomorrow." Nkomo says Mutambara is being detained in a Harare police station, which the constitutional court has allegedly deemed "unsuitable for human habitation".

The Movement for Democratic Change broke into two factions in 2005, following a dispute over whether to contest Senate elections. Mutambara led a breakaway faction of nearly half of MDC's parliament members, until the March 29 elections left his faction with 10 seats against Tsvangirai's 99. Mutambara subsequently agreed to join forces with Tsvangirai, although no official merge has taken place.

Eric Matinenga, an opposition legislator and lawyer to MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested Saturday in the eastern district of Buhera. He was charged with inciting public violence, said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa. Matinenga, who was elected as a member of parliament in the March 29 elections, is the fifth MDC legislator to be arrested. He is due to appear in court on Monday, according to Chamisa.

"The whole campaign is to render the MDC comatose but it is not going to work," Chamisa said. "This run-off is between the people and a dictatorship represented by Mugabe."

The March 29 elections had the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party lose its majority in parliament for the first time since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. The results showed Tsvangirai with more votes than Mugabe in the presidential race, but neither won an acceptable majority, forcing a run-off to be held on June 27.