Mon, Jan 19, 2009 - Page 6 News List

UK politicians block deportation of Zimbabwe activist

THE GUARDIAN AND AFP , LONDON AND HONG KONG

A Zimbabwean woman holds a bundle of 10 trillion Zimbabwe-dollar notes in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Saturday. The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe introduced 10, 20, 50 and 100 trillion dollar notes.

PHOTO: EPA

The British Home Office is seeking urgently to deport a leading Zimbabwean human rights activist, despite claims from members of parliament (MPs) that the move will place his life in danger.

Luka Phiri, a former aide to the vice-president of the Movement for Democratic Change, Thokozani Khupe, was detained last week and is being held at Colnbrook Immigration Centre, west of London.

He was scheduled to be deported on Wednesday, but the move was blocked at the eleventh hour following intervention from Phiri’s MP, Labor Minister Stephen Timms and a number of other politicians, including MP Kate Hoey, chair of the parliamentary group on Zimbabwe.

Although the government has pledged not to deport Zimbabweans, two immigration judges have approved Phiri’s removal on the grounds that he entered the country on a Malawian passport.

Phiri, who grew up in Zimbabwe, said he acquired a Malawian passport when he fled his native country after being tortured by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s supporters.

Malawian immigration officials told journalists that Phiri would be arrested if he entered the country and prosecuted for obtaining a passport fraudulently.

Meanwhile, a British photographer said yesterday he had been beaten up and punched repeatedly by Mugabe’s wife as he was trying to snap photos of her in Hong Kong.

Grace Mugabe, 43, flew into a rage when she saw photographer Richard Jones waiting outside as she left the five-star Kowloon Shangri-la Hotel with a female friend and a bodyguard on Thursday.

Jones was about 6m away when she told her bodyguard to attack him, said Michael Sheridan, the Sunday Times correspondent who joined the photographer seconds after the assault.

“The bodyguard grabbed Mr Jones, wrestled with him, attempted to take his camera. He then held him while Mrs Mugabe struck him in the face repeatedly,” Sheridan said.

“She was completely deranged, absolutely raging with anger,” Jones, chief photographer of Hong Kong-based Sinopix photo agency said.

Jones said he went to see a doctor afterwards and was suffering from numerous bruises, cuts and abrasions to his head and face.

“The cuts and bruises allegedly caused by the first lady ... were due to the diamond rings on her fingers,” he said.

Police were later called to the scene and took a statement from Jones.

Sheridan said he understood that the police would study CCTV footage taken by the center, which is believed to have captured the entire assault.

He said they had planned to cover Grace Mugabe’s stay in Hong Kong to show the “obvious contrast between her extravagant lifestyle and the plight of people in Zimbabwe.”

The Sunday Times said Grace Mugabe’s trip to Hong Kong was part of a Far East holiday with her family.

She had been in Singapore with her husband before flying to Hong Kong on Jan. 9, the newspaper reported.

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