- West Africa
- Ivory Coast
Zimbabwe threatens Prime Minister with treason
Zimbabwe’s controversial Attorney-General Johannes Tomana is setting up a commission of five lawyers to explore the possibility of charging the country’s Prime Minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, with treason.
This charge would be based on recent embarrassing leaks from the WikiLeaks whistleblower website, where Tsvangirai—who once faced the same charges a few years ago—was quoted discussing international sanctions with the US ambassador in the capital city of Harare.
Treason in Zimbabwe carries a death penalty sentence.
"With immediate effect, I am going to instruct a team of practicing lawyers to look into the issues that arise from the WikiLeaks," said Tomana.
"The [leaks] appear to show a treasonous collusion between local Zimbabweans and the aggressive international world, particularly the United States," Tomana told the state-owned newspaper, The Herald.
In early December, Tomana was included on an American restrictive sanctions list for allegedly undermining democracy and the rule of law in the country by "presiding over the selective prosecution of President Mugabe’s political opponents."
He reacted by condemning the move as an attack on his office and the constitution of Zimbabwe. Tomana’s proposed probe team comes barely two weeks after veteran ruler President Robert Mugabe told his ZANU-PF supporters that the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.
Tomana was unilaterally appointed by Mugabe without consulting his power-sharing partner, Prime Minister Tsvangirai. Analysts say Tomana is pushing for the commission to "get at Tsvangirai." But lawyers for human rights insist that the proposed probe commission should be impartial and also target ZANU-PF officials made public by WikiLeaks.
"If there is a commission to look into WikiLeaks, it will have to investigate everything WikiLeaks has discussed, including officials from ZANU-PF. It cannot be selective," human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa is quoted saying.
Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, is also cited in the cables.
ZANU-PF officials, led by Mugabe, have since called for Tsvangirai to resign from public office and face prosecution for possible treason. Mtetwa contends that a successful prosecution of Tsvangirai for treason would be legally problematic. According to Mtetwa, witnesses such as former US Ambassador Christopher Dell have to be called to testify, saying the "cables are based on opinion, not fact. There are a host of legal problems."
Meanwhile, Mugabe’s supporters are overjoyed by Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo’s statement that Mugabe was justified in holding on to power despite an election defeat.
"When you go through what I’ve been through, you tell yourself: ’Perhaps Mugabe wasn’t completely wrong after all’," Gbagbo is quoted as saying.
Mugabe loyalists say the West is attempting a coup in the Ivory Coast by coercing regional countries to use force on Gbagbo to give up power.