Zim judge orders Bennett's release

A Zimbabwean judge on Tuesday ordered the release of a senior lawmaker, who was part of the opposition until a new unity government was formed last month, after nearly three weeks in prison on weapons charges.

High Court Judge Tedias Karwi ruled there was “no merit” in the state’s application for Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lawmaker Roy Bennett to be denied bail.

The detention of Bennett, who was nominated as deputy agriculture minister, has strained relations in the new unity government. He was arrested hours before the new Cabinet was sworn in.

It was not immediately clear whether Bennett would be released immediately or whether the state would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Defence lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told reporters the state wanted bail raised to $5 000 and wanted him to report to police each day, but the judge refused.

Former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in on Tuesday in Parliament and will deliver his first speech as prime minister on Wednesday.

Attorney General Johannes Tomana was also sworn in. He was unilaterally reappointed by President Robert Mugabe last week to the anger of the MDC, which said it breached the power-sharing agreement.

Tomana’s office is believed responsible for the continued detention of Bennett, as well as human rights activists.
The MDC said it feared the state would not comply with the release order because prosecutors were seen at Tomana’s office, apparently seeking new orders.

It said a total of 10 MDC and civil society activists who have been languishing in prison since last year were released, but three remained in custody after failing to meet stringent bail conditions.

Tsvangirai has insisted on the release of all political detainees.

But it remains unclear how much real power he wields against Mugabe.

House speaker Lovemore Moyo, a Tsvangirai loyalist, played down the differences as he welcomed the new members into the lower house.

“It is our hope we have members of Parliament who will work together with the council of ministers [headed by Tsvangirai] to resolve the crisis,” he said.—Sapa-AP

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