BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
A HARARE magistrate yesterday convicted MDC national vice-chairperson Tendai Biti for announcing and declaring his party leader Nelson Chamisa the 2018 presidential election winner before the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) had announced the results.
Magistrate Gloria Takundwa said Biti’s remarks, while addressing a Press conference, undermined Zec, which has the mandate of announcing electoral results.
Biti was charged under section 66A of the Electoral Act, which states that any person who announces the result of an election purporting as the true or official results, or purports to declare any candidate to have been duly elected before an electoral officer does so shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level five or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
The Harare East MP was convicted of all two counts and sentenced to a wholly suspended six-month imprisonment sentence on condition of good behaviour.
The MDC vice-chairperson was also ordered to pay $200 fine or seven days imprisonment.
In passing sentence, Takundwa said the State had managed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Biti publicly declared Chamisa as the winner of 2018 presidential election before Zec had made the official announcement.
“Biti presented his announcement as authentic and his actions had potential to undermine the official announcement by Zec. The intention of the Act is to prevent such behaviour exhibited by the accused, that undermine the authority of Zec,” Takundwa ruled.
In mitigation, Biti’s lawyer Alec Muchadehama told the court that his client is a father of four, a parliamentarian and senior member of the legal profession with 27 years’ experience.
He said he is currently paying school fees for 20 children.
“His contribution to legal reform cannot go unmentioned. He makes a valuable contribution to alleviating unemployment. He also employs five lawyers at his firm Biti Legal Practitioners and 15 support staff. He also runs a piggery project that employs at least 15 people.
“He is a legal scholar, who lectures part time at Cornell and Chicago University. (Makwanyane Institute). He is a fellow for the Centre for Global Development. The offence is not a serious offence as it attracts a level 5 fine.”
Muchadehama added: “The court must make an imposition of a fine up to level 5. The offence is more technical and serves as a preventative measure, but provides an exception under subsections. Imprisonment is a rigorous form of punishment, which must be considered as a last resort.”
Muchadehama further told the court that Biti suffered a lot during and after his arrest.
He said his family, which includes his mother and relatives, were harassed by law enforcement agents and was placed under strict bail conditions, which restricted him from addressing political gatherings and reporting three times a week at the police station.
The State unsuccessfully appealed to the court for Biti to be sentenced to a custodial sentence of the maximum imprisonment term reserved for the offence.
Prosecutor Jonathan Murombedzi told court that Biti committed a serious offence, and the court must apply a custodial sentence so as not to trivialise the offence.
The court gallery was packed to capacity with MDC supporters and members, who included party leader Nelson Chamisa, Willias Madzimure and other party officials.
Chamisa and several local and international journalists waited for Biti at the court prison gate.
After coming out of the prison gate tunnel, Chamisa addressed journalists before the two were whisked away by their security details to their waiting vehicles and left.