Tatenda Jera has lived in the UK since 2000 when he fled the country of his birth. He got into trouble with UK authorities in July last year when he was arrested for not paying fines.

Speaking from the Haslar detention centre on Thursday, Jera told SW Radio Africa that due to lack of money he accumulated substantial fines for not paying fares on London’s public transport network in 2008.

‘I was picked up by the police in July last year and taken to court where I was sentenced to serve two weeks in jail. I only served one week and it was at that time that immigration officials visited me in jail.’ Jera said.

Jera was taken into custody by the UK border agency for violating his visitor’s visa. He immediately claimed asylum and his application has been denied three times.

He said he has been denied his quest for freedom for over a year now, while some hardcore criminals are granted bail within days of detention.

Jera said he was originally detained because Home Office officials believed he would be difficult to find when it came time to deport him. The British government wants to deport him after he lost a claim for refugee status, and two other applications to stay in the UK, including one made on the basis of humanitarian and compassionate grounds, were also turned down.

‘I’m not a criminal. I left Zimbabwe to flee violence and try to make ends meet. Although they treat us nice in detention the fact remains that I’m behind a wall and don’t enjoy my freedom. My family has tried to help but nothing is moving on the ground,’ he said.

Jera is detained with two other Zimbabwean men, one of them a well known cartoonist Victor Chadoka. Chadoka has published on the internet satirical cartoons denouncing Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF regime.

Jaison Matewu, the MDC-UK’s organizing secretary, said he would enquire about Jera’s predicament. He said the fact that Jera has spent over a year in detention meant he was probably not an active MDC member.

‘When one of our members is detained we usually get notification of their arrests almost immediately, but in this case I’m surprised Jera has spent over a year in detention. Even if he’s not MDC the fact remains that Jera is Zimbabwean and needs our help,’ Matewu said. SW Radio Africa