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Zimbabwe ambassador seeks asylum in Australia

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BRISBANE – Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Australia has lashed out at the government of President Robert Mugabe and is seeking a protection visa so she can stay on in Australia.

Jacqueline Zwambila has asked the Australian government for asylum because she fears for her safety if she returns to Zimbabwe. With four days remaining as ambassador she has moved out of her residence with no intention of using the business class ticket provided by her government to fly home on Tuesday.

“I don’t feel safe about returning to Zimbabwe at all,” she said.

Zwambila will rely on a bridging visa after her diplomatic status is cancelled and a small number of family members who have been with her in Australia also hope to gain protection under her application.

One treasured item she took with her from the residence when she moved out on Friday was a framed graduate diploma in international relations from the Australian National University, which she received two weeks earlier.

Before her departure the diploma hung in the hall of her residence opposite a portrait of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. The portrait has been left at the residence in the Canberra suburb of Red Hill.

Zwambila, politically aligned to Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was recalled from her post without being offered another job after Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party controversially won the country’s July 31 general election.

Mugabe, who turns 90 in February, won power for the next five years when he finished with 61 per cent of the vote compared to the MDC’s 39% amid claims of intimidation and tampering with electoral rolls and the allegation that up to one million voters were turned away from polling places.

Mugabe called on his opponents to accept defeat or commit suicide.

“But I tell them even dogs will not sniff at their flesh if they choose to die that way,” was the punch line he gave The New York Times.

Zwambila said Mugabe and Zanu PF stole the election and had followed up by increasing arrests of MDC supporters on trumped-up charges. She feared indefinite custody if she returned.

She said among other allegations she has been threatened with arrest in Zimbabwe because a court found she had not paid $2700 to a tradesman who worked on her house there.

She denied owing the money. Zwambila said the $150,000 house would be auctioned against her will to pay the bill.

Amnesty International highlighted how policing had become politicised when more than 20 of Zwambila’s fellow party members were arrested and spent a year or more in custody for the alleged murder of a police officer before being acquitted.

One of them, Rebecca Mafikeni, 29, died in custody in August after two years in remand awaiting trial.

Ms Zwambila said when she heard about Mugabe’s victory she saw “doom, a black cloud”.

“I knew then it was the end of my term.”

Claims in 2010 that she stripped naked during a fit of rage in front of staff in Canberra were proven to be false at more than one tier of the Australian legal system during a defamation case that finally concluded in the High Court last week.

A Canberra judge struck out the defence by freelance journalist Panganai Reason Wafawarova, who argued his report was true and in the public interest.

The Herald  had published the claims made about the ambassador and The Australian also ran Wafawarova’s claims days later.

Zwambila launched a lawsuit against The Aus-tralian‘s publisher, News Ltd, and Wafawarova in 2011.

Court papers say Wafawarova was motivated out of malice as an “agent of the Mugabe regime”.

She reached a confidential settlement with The Australian in March 2011.

It was her opposition to Mugabe that essentially brought her to Canberra in 2010.

The Movement for Democratic Change won the 2008 election but a power-sharing agreement was struck after Mugabe refused to stand down.

As a consequence, a handful of MDC-aligned diplomats were sent to Australia, Germany, Sudan, Nigeria and Senegal and at least three have been recalled since the election.

Zwambila plans to return to activism, which she hopes to do from abroad. “The future looks bleak under this government,” she said.

– Brisbane Times

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