Zimbabwe court orders release of PM aide

AP News
Posted: Jun 26, 2011 10:07 AM
Zimbabwe court orders release of PM aide

A Zimbabwe court on Sunday freed a minister in the prime minister's party who was arrested after he allegedly called President Robert Mugabe a liar.

Jameson Timba, a minister of state in Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's office, was detained Friday. The special hearing Sunday of the Harare High Court ordered Timba's release, but police held him two more hours after the hearing.

Judge Joseph Musakwa ruled that the police had "no justification" for his arrest.

Police officials at the court said they needed time to complete release formalities, a claim attorneys dismissed as unnecessary and further harassment of Timba.

Timba's lawyers said he was denied food and access to attorneys in jail since Friday.

Mugabe's party accused Timba of insulting Mugabe, an offense under sweeping security laws, when he said Mugabe lied over the outcome of a recent regional summit on Zimbabwe.

Despite protests from his lawyers, police escorted Timba from Sunday's court hearing to the main Harare police station, where he was released two hours after the verdict. Police reinforcements had been called to the court.

After his release, Timba said: "The police must learn how to do their job properly."

Timba was not asked to post bail, defense attorney Selby Hwacha told reporters. The minister denied using the word "liar" but stood by his party's position on what happened at the summit, he said.

Timba attended the June 12 summit in neighboring South Africa and contradicted Mugabe's account that regional leaders withdrew a damning report on the slow pace of reforms and continuing political violence blamed on Mugabe's party.

Mugabe insisted the Southern African Development Community, a regional economic and political bloc, clear his party's name over allegations reported to the grouping by the chief Zimbabwe mediator, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

Timba gave his account of the summit at the same time that Tsvangirai also told a rally in central Zimbabwe that Mugabe and his party leaders were not truthful over the summit findings.

Mugabe's party has also called for Tsvangirai's arrest for insulting Mugabe, accusations usually applied to remarks made by political hecklers or those who curse Mugabe in bars or on buses. Those convicted have been fined or briefly jailed.

Tsvangirai's party described it as "strange" that Timba was arrested before the weekend _ a reference to a common police practice of jailing suspects over the weekend in filthy, overcrowded cells in frigid winter conditions until courts and judicial offices reopen on Monday.

His arrest signaled another rift in the 28-month coalition formed by regional mediators after violent, disputed elections in 2008.

Tsvangirai's party said on Sunday Timba was traced to a police jail in the southern dormitory township of Chitungwiza, 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of the capital, after lawyers visited several police stations around Harare where officers denied holding him over the weekend.

Uniformed officers said they were unaware of the minister's arrest.

In the past, security agents loyal to Mugabe who often don't answer to the central police command have been accused of abducting Mugabe party opponents and human rights activists.