Zimbabwe’s former finance minister and opposition leader Tendai Biti appeared in court on Thursday to be charged with stoking post-election violence in a case watched around the world as a test of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s treatment of opponents.
Biti, whose People’s Democratic Party had formed an election alliance with Nelson Chamisa’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), sought asylum in neighboring Zambia on Wednesday but was deported back to Zimbabwe in a move condemned by the United States.
He was also charged with falsely and unlawfully announcing results of the July 30 election, which Chamisa rejected as fraudulent and is set to challenge in the Constitutional Court on Friday.
If found guilty, Biti could face up to 10 years in jail, a cash fine or both. He was released on bail and will appear in court again on Friday.
“It’s been an ordeal, but we survive. We live to fight another day, I am glad to be home,” Biti told reporters soon after his release.
The United States said it was concerned about reports of detentions, beatings and other abuses targeting opposition activists.
It singled out the case of Biti and signaled that Zambia could face consequences for its role in handing him back.
“We will be discussing this matter with Zambia’s leaders and reviewing certain aspects of our cooperation with the Zambian government,” the State Department said in a statement.
The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, said it would be a serious violation of international law if Zambian authorities had handed Biti over despite a court order to the contrary, which his lawyer said had indeed been issued by the Zambian High Court.
The European Union, Australia and Canada also said they were “deeply disturbed by continuing reports that opposition supporters are being targeted by members of the Zimbabwean security forces”.