THE ZIMBABWEAN ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila has been labelled treasonous in her home country after her decision to seek asylum in Australia made headlines around the world.
On Saturday, Fairfax Media revealed Ms Zwambila had sought political asylum in Australia, saying: ''I don't feel safe about returning to Zimbabwe at all.''
The application for asylum made news at the BBC, The Guardian and The Washington Post, and pro-government media outlets in Zimbabwe took the opportunity to denounce the diplomat.
In Zimbabwe, Bulawayo24 called her decision ''bizarre'' and a ''diplomatic shocker''. It quoted an unnamed political commentator as saying her actions were tantamount to treason.
Fairfax Media can reveal other diplomatic visa holders have sought asylum in the past three years. Ms Zwambila's migration agent, Marion Le, said she knew of a ''considerable number''.
''The number of these clients I've dealt with in this time would be in double figures, more than 20, probably more than 30,'' she said.
Ms Zwambila was recalled to Zimbabwe and was due to fly home on Tuesday on her last day as ambassador, but has chosen to seek protection in Australia following Robert Mugabe's dubious presidential victory at the July 31 election, which the Australian government has asked to be re-run.
After reading Saturday's story, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser referred to the visa by tweeting: ''Grant it now''.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the government did not provide commentary on individual requests as it could prejudice the person's case or, worse, place people at risk.
Acting Opposition Leader Penny Wong said Labor would urge the government to consider any application on its merits and resolve it as soon as possible.
''Political violence and manipulation continues in Zimbabwe,'' she said. ''The recent elections were not fair, they were not free.''
Ms Le, who said the protection visa application was lodged with the Department of Immigration in the past fortnight, said Ms Zwambila had been stressed, despite her appearance of bravado.
She said protection visas were usually applied for under a great deal of secrecy but this case was an exception.
''Ms Zwambila's been an activist all her life and she wasn't going to just sit down,'' Ms Le said.
''There are some legal precedents where it says, if a person goes public to enhance their prospects, [the protection visa] should be refused but, in her case, and many others, they've had well-founded fears [for their safety] when they put in the application.
''I think it's her human right to go public.''
Criticism of Ms Zwambila has included defamatory claims that have been proved false before Australian courts.
Claims in 2010 that she stripped naked during a fit of rage in front of staff in Canberra were proven to be false during a defamation case that finally concluded in the ACT Supreme Court last week.
A Canberra judge struck out the defence by freelance journalist Panganai Reason Wafawarova, who argued his newspaper reports were true and in the public interest.
Zimbabwean state-run newspaper The Herald published the claims and The Australian ran Wafawarova's report days later.
Ms Zwambila launched a successful lawsuit against The Australian's publisher, News Limited, and Wafawarova in 2011.
Court papers say Wafawarova was motivated out of malice as an ''agent of the Mugabe regime''.
She reached a confidential settlement with The Australian in March 2011. But Wafawarova defended his reporting, resulting in last week's High Court ruling.