afrol News, 6 May - Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will have to answer to terrorism charges when the disputed lawsuit against him starts on Monday. Tsvangirai, the first dangerous challenger to Mugabe's grip on Zimbabwe, risks becoming ineligible in nest year's presidential election.
The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Tsvangirai, is due to show up in High Court on Monday (7 May) to defend himself on the serious charges. He was denounced by the government and is charged with terrorism and sabotage. More concrete, Morgan Tsvangirai allegedly has tried to overthrow the government by calling for mass action to remove President Robert Mugabe.
Tsvangirai's lawyer Innocent Chagonda told Reuters the MDC leader was being "charged under Section 51 of the Law and Order Maintenance Act, which covers acts of terrorism." It had been expected that he would be charged for inciting violence. "It (the charge) is not appropriate from what transpired at the event," Chagonda commented.
In September and October 2000, the MDC leader publicly told his supporters there was no point in waiting for the 2002 presidential elections to achieve political change in Zimbabwe. "What we would like to tell Mugabe today is: Please go peacefully. If you don't want to go peacefully, we will remove you violently," he said on a party rally. Tsvangirai repeatedly called for mass action against the regime.
The MDC however said on later occasions that he had merely warned Mugabe to solve Zimbabwe's worst economic crisis or face a backlash from an angry population. He further specified that his party would not organise a coup or any other illegal action.
These statements by Tsvangirai were followed by the filing of treason charges against him by the Zimbabwean government. The procedure of the trial can gravely limit the popular opposition leader's possibilities to stand as a candidate in next year's election. Tsvangirai risks a life prison sentence, but even a mild sentence of six months imprisonment would cost him the presidential candidacy.
Tsvangirai himself claims the trial is politically motivated, with the only aim being to remove him as a challenge to Mugabe's candidacy. Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 and Tsvangirai is the first real challenge to Mugabe's regime.
The police questioned Tsvangirai on 9 October 2000 after the government had called for his arrest on suspicion of treason. The MDC leader was however released from the police after a short questioning. In November 2000, it was announced that the Attorney General's Office had shelved plans to prosecute Tsvangirai over his statements "because there was no solid case".
The MDC on several occasions has warned the government not to carry out an arrest of Tsvangirai, claiming that such an "unjustified arrest" would be unwise and likely to provoke unnecessary conflict in a politically polarised Zimbabwean society.
The MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai so far have not made any statements commenting on the terrorism charges.
Source: Based on press reports, MDC and afrol archives