The U.S. has said it was deeply concerned that Zambia chose to hand over former Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, to the Zimbabwean authorities and in the face of a reported Zambian court order blocking his expulsion from Zambia.
The U.S. Department of State in a statement by its Spokesperson, Ms Heather Nauert, also condemned reported harassment and intimidation of opposition figures.
“The United States Government is gravely concerned by credible reports of numerous detentions, beatings, and other abuses of Zimbabweans over the past week, particularly targeting opposition activists,’’ the statement said.
It added that “there should be no role for violence, intimidation or harassment in the new Zimbabwe’’.
The U.S. said the decision was particularly disheartening, given the courage that Zambia showed in sheltering thousands of Zimbabwean freedom fighters from Rhodesian aggression in the days of Zimbabwe’s independence struggle.
“We will be discussing this matter with Zambia’s leaders and review certain aspects of our cooperation with the Zambian government.
“The Government of Zimbabwe is now responsible for Tendai Biti’s safety and welfare.
“We call on Zimbabwe’s leaders to guarantee Mr Biti’s physical safety and ensure his constitutional and human rights are respected, consistent with the rule of law and Zimbabwe’s international obligations and commitments.
“In Washington, the United States has convoked the ambassadors of both Zimbabwe and Zambia to register our gravest concerns,’’ the U.S. said.
It said Zimbabwe had a historic opportunity to move the country toward a brighter future for all its citizens, adding, however, “an electoral process marred by violence that does not respect constitutional rights and procedures is not a step toward that future’’.
Similarly, the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said it was gravely concerned about reports of the forced return of Biti, who was seeking asylum in Zambia, back to Zimbabwe.
The UN refugee agency said the senior Zimbabwean politician expressed the intention to seek asylum in Zambia at the border.
UNHCR said: “It is reported that the authorities handed him over to his country of origin today despite a court order to the contrary.
“Forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law.
“UNHCR calls on Zambia to investigate this reported incident urgently’’.