Former president of Zimbabwe flees after convictions Banana found guilty on sodomy charges, seeks asylum in Botswana

November 27, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Former Zimbabwean President Canaan Banana was convicted yesterday on 11 counts of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault by Zimbabwe's highest court, and prosecutors confirmed he has fled the country.

In the most sensational trial involving homosexuality in modern African history, High Court Judge Godfrey Chidyausiku confiscated Banana's bail and issued an arrest warrant for the 63-year-old father of four and Methodist theologian.

Banana went to neighboring Botswana on Nov. 17.

"The former president is a fugitive from justice. He has fled the country to escape punishment for his crimes," said chief prosecutor Augustine Chikumira. "We have an extradition treaty with Botswana, he has been charged with contempt of court, and we will vigorously pursue his return to this country."

Botswana officials confirmed Banana was in the country but made no further comment on the matter.

The prosecutor said Banana would seek political asylum.

Banana's flight is another dramatic turn in an 18-month-old soap opera that has riveted the country and drawn the attention of gay rights activists around the world.

Zimbabwean President Robert G. Mugabe, a former close friend of Banana, has stirred international controversy by calling homosexuals "lower than dogs and pigs," and by repeatedly going out of his way to antagonize gays, saying they do not enjoy equal protection under the law.

Banana consistently denied the charges that he coerced bodyguards, gardeners and cooks into sexual relations while acting as ceremonial president of the country from 1980 to 1987.

That defense was shattered yesterday, when Chidyausiku said in a 75-page judgment that Banana was guilty of all 11 counts of homosexual activity brought against him by 11 men.

"The court finds the accused guilty on all 11 charges," Chidyausiku told a packed courtroom.

Each count of sodomy, whether forced or consensual, can carry up to a 10-year sentence, though far lighter sentences are usually imposed.

Chidyausiku delayed sentencing until Dec. 10 because of Banana's absence.

Pub Date: 11/27/98

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