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British activist seeks arrest of Zimbabwe president

British activist seeks arrest of Zimbabwe president

British gay activist Peter Tatchell said Friday he will go before a central London court next week to try to have Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe arrested and extradited to the United Kingdom for violating international laws against torture, Agence France-Presse reports. Tatchell said his case against Mugabe--supported by affidavits from three Zimbabwe torture victims--will be heard by Judge Timothy Workman at Bow Street Magistrates Court on Wednesday. "The scheduling of this case before such a prominent judge is an indication of the seriousness with which my application is being taken," said Tatchell, a longtime campaigner against Mugabe, a notorious homophobe. Tatchell said he was aiming for an arrest warrant and extradition order to be issued under the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which outlaws torture, and the U.N. Convention Against Torture 1984. "If an arrest warrant and extradition order is granted, it would mean Mugabe could be arrested and extradited to Britain from any of the 100-plus countries with which Britain has an extradition treaty," he said. Those countries include France, Malaysia, South Africa, Switzerland, and Thailand, "all of which he has visited recently," he said. Tatchell, a founder of the gay rights group OutRage! in 1990, has long been a critic of Mugabe, who was once quoted as describing gay men and lesbians as "worse than pigs or dogs." In February of last year Tatchell lodged a formal complaint with French authorities to have Mugabe--who was then attending a Franco-African summit in Paris--arrested under French antitorture laws. Instead, Tatchell was seized by French police along with a fellow protester before they could carry out a demonstration against Mugabe, who was attending the summit despite a European Union travel ban on him and members of his inner circle. According to AFP, the activist got into a scuffle in March 2001 with members of Mugabe's entourage as he tried to carry out a citizen's arrest against the president in Brussels. In October 1999, Tatchell was arrested in London as he attempted to carry out a similar citizen's arrest against Mugabe, who was visiting the British capital. The charges against him were later dropped due to lack of evidence. The United Kingdom, the former colonial power in what used to be called Rhodesia, has been at the forefront of international efforts to isolate Mugabe's regime, including its suspension from the Commonwealth last month. In a press statement Friday, Tatchell said his bid for a British arrest warrant would be supported by affidavits from three Zimbabwe torture victims, whom he did not identify. "They implicate Mugabe in the authorization and condonement of torture," he said, adding, "I also have affidavits and reports from human rights groups attesting to the widespread use of torture with the knowledge and consent of the Zimbabwean government and its security and defense forces." He acknowledged, however, "two big legal hurdles.... The first is that the consent of the attorney general is required for a prosecution under Britain's antitorture law, Section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. The second obstacle will be the issue of sovereign immunity--the legislation and legal rulings that heads of state, such as President Mugabe, are immune from prosecution." Tatchell said he would tackle the latter hurdle by citing a number of international legal precedents, including the indictment of Slobodan Milosevic of war crimes while he was still president of Yugoslavia.

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