THE United States embassy in Harare has expressed concern over the arrest of MDC Alliance vice-president Tendai Biti in connection with an alleged assault of a Russian woman.
Biti was arrested on Friday for calling a Russian national Tatiana Aleshina an “idiot” and exchanging harsh words with her at the court on November 30.
The Harare East MP, who admitted calling Aleshina an “idiot”, was released on $10 000 bail the following day after spending a night in custody. He was not asked to plead when he appeared before Harare magistrate Vongai Muchuchuti.
He was remanded to January 18 for trial after prosecutors consented to his application for bail.
The US embassy on Saturday took to Twitter to say that it was watching very closely the Biti court case as it was an affront to democracy.
Analysts said this was likely to worsen the relationship between Harare, the US and the United Kingdom which recently threatened to impose additional sanctions on Zimbabwe for human rights abuse.
“A true democracy leaves no space for arbitrary arrests of opposition political figures. We will watch the developments closely in Tendai Biti’s case,” the US embassy tweeted.
Their sentiments were also echoed by the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which also posted a comment the same day.
“The Foreign Affairs Committee will be watching this case in Zimbabwe closely as well,” it said.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero said the statement by the US might, however, not do justice to the MDC Alliance as it plays into the narrative by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF government that the opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa is a “puppet of the US and the West”.
“The US statement plays well in the hands of Zanu PF propaganda when they project or propagated the fact that the MDC could be a mere extension of Western puppetry. At the end of the day, there is not really much that the US should cry about over the detention or arrest of Biti, because we know this is political,” Rusero said.
“At this time the US better take a back stage and a silent position rather than reduce itself into an activist State which acts as binoculars on what African States are doing in as much as human rights arrests are concerned,” he said.
Rusero said the US risked playing into the Zanu PF propaganda as it was actually crying more than the bereaved.
MDC Alliance party spokesperson Fadzai Mahere declined to comment.
“I don’t speak for the US embassy, I think they would be best placed to respond to your query,” Mahere said.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said the US statement was noble although it gave the Zanu PF government and State security agents ammunition against the opposition.
“It does give Zanu PF ammunition. However, they (US) do so because the opposition and civil society are viewed as victims. They are viewed as the underdogs against the senior dogs. They will be doing so saying they are in support of democratic promotion, especially electoral and media reforms.
“However, it gives Zanu PF, the State and law enforcement agents ammunition to say everytime transgressors are arrested, the US cries the most and then the opposition is viewed as a Western puppet,” Masunugure said.
Zanu PF acting spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa could not be reached for comment.
Mnangagwa’s second republic has been on the international radar on allegations of gross human rights abuses and persecution of dissenting voices.