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Zimbabwe high court dismisses Finance Minister's illegal arrest suit

The Zimbabwe Supreme Court announced Monday that it would refuse to hear a civil rights case brought by Finance Minister Tendai Biti [official profile] over his 2008 arrest [JURIST report] on treason charges because he did not file an appeal in time. Biti, who is secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website], was seeking a ruling that police violated his constitutional rights when they arrested him for treason and communicating falsehoods detrimental to the state based, in part, on a document outlining plans to topple Robert Mugabe's government that Biti denies writing. Judge Vernanda Ziyamba said that the court would not hear the case [Zimbabwe Metro report] because Biti waited more than the statutory maximum of 15 days to file an appeal. A lawyer for Biti said that Biti plans to appeal the court's decision not to hear the case.

Biti was never convicted, and the charges against him were dropped [NYT report] in 2009 as part of a power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] between the MDC, headed by Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], and Mugabe's ZANU-PF party. Zimbabwe's 2008 elections [JURIST news archive] were marred by allegations of fraud [JURIST report] and government ballot rigging. Zimbabwe police arrested several members of the MDC prior to the election, allegedly to prevent the MDC party from participating in the election, and the UN criticized both parties for rights abuses [JURIST reports] leading up to the election. A period of uncertainty also followed the elections, after the ruling government initially refused to release election results, and then announced that a run-off election was needed [JURIST reports] because Tsvangirai had won a slim majority of the votes, but not enough to claim outright victory. Mugabe ran unopposed in the run-off election after Tsvangirai withdrew his candidacy and sought refuge at the Dutch embassy. The results of the run-off election were condemned by the international community [JURIST report] as being neither transparent nor impartial, and the government of Mugabe has been called illegitimate.

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