Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia has asked Canberra for asylum, lashing out at her country's "illegitimate" government and voicing fears for her safety if she returns home at the end of her posting, on Tuesday.
Jacqueline Zwambila said elections in July in Zimbabwe had been "stolen" by President Robert Mugabe's government and that she had no intention of using her business-class ticket to return home, The Canberra Times reported yesterday.
"I don't feel safe about returning to Zimbabwe at all," said Zwambila, who is aligned with Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
"Once the elections of 31 July were stolen by the current government, which is illegitimate, I knew that this was the end of the line," Zwambila said in a video posted on the website of The Canberra Times.
"End of the line for the people of Zimbabwe ... and for people like me, who were appointed by the ex-prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai."
Zwambila said she was seeking a protection visa from Australia so she could stay on in the country along with her family once her diplomatic status expired.
It was not immediately clear whether Canberra would approve her request.
Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not confirm whether Zwambila had sought asylum, saying he could not comment on individual cases.
"If or when an application for a protection visa is received it would be assessed on its merits and in accordance with the normal rules that apply in these circumstances," he said.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader and in power for 33 years, began a new five-year term after winning a landslide victory in disputed elections at the end of July.
His rival, opposition leader Tsvangirai, described the vote as "fraudulent", citing an unusual number of voters turned away in urban constituencies that were considered opposition strongholds.
Australia, which had offered reduced sanctions as an incentive for free and fair elections, joined the United States and Britain in questioning the credibility of the polls and called for a re-run.
But the 89-year-old veteran leader dismissed that view, brusquely telling his opponents to accept defeat. Zwambila said that when she learned about Mugabe's victory, she saw "doom, a black cloud".
"I knew then it was the end of my term," the report quoted her as saying.
The ambassador voiced fears of indefinite detention if she returned home, saying she had been threatened with arrest in Zimbabwe after a court found that she owed several hundred US dollars to a tradesman. She denied the charge.
"So many things have been done to me since I've been here in Australia, the smear campaigns and threats ... There is no way I feel safe being in Zimbabwe or going back to Zimbabwe," she said.
Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since independence, in 1980.