MDC leader arrested on first day of protests

[Zimbabwe] Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC Leader
Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on the basis of a video secretly filmed by Ari Ben-Menashe (Obinna Anyadike/IRIN)

Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was arrested on a charge of contempt of court on Monday for allegedly defying a court order to call off the start of anti-government protest action.

Tsvangirai was arrested at his home and taken to the Harare Central Police station, where he signed a "warned and cautioned statement" and was then released, MDC legal affairs director, David Coltart, told IRIN.

A warned and cautioned statement is made when charges are first put forward by the police, and the response is recorded in a statement. The police then decide whether to proceed with the case.

Tsvangirai was arrested shortly before he was due to lead a protest march from the Harare suburb of Highfield, the constituency where President Robert Mugabe originally stood for election for the ruling ZANU-PF, but which has since fallen to the MDC.

Coltart said the MDC was challenging the validity of the government's weekend court order and Tsvangirai's arrest for contempt of court. A statement released by Tsvangirai on Sunday said neither he nor the party had received proper notice of the court order hearing, while Coltart said Tsvangirai's arrest for contempt of court was improper, as the police had carried it out allegedly without an instruction from the judge.

In addition, on Monday morning the MDC filed a notice appealing the order. Under Zimbabwean law such an appeal suspends the original order, Coltart said.

Tsvangirai was released to attend the ongoing treason trial in which he, MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube and MDC MP Renson Gasela are accused of plotting to assassinate Mugabe. However, when the trial started, the attorney-general's representative attempted to have Tsvangirai's bail conditions altered, so that he could be ordered not to make defamatory statements against the government.

Tsvangirai's legal representative, South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, opposed the application and the trial was postponed until Tuesday to enable Bizos to present a full argument.

Meanwhile, an MDC bulletin said other MDC leaders arrested on the first day of anti-government demonstrations included the mayor of Bulawayo, Japhet Ndabeni Ncube, Silas Mangono, the MP for Masvingo Central, Jobert Mudzumwe, a member of the MDC national executive, Abraham Mdlonga, the chairman of MDC in Bulawayo Province and Milton Gwetu, MP for Mpopoma. Many MDC supporters were also reportedly arrested.

Police spokesman, assistant commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, told IRIN the police still "wanted to question" Ncube on the same charges that Tsvangirai faces.

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