Zim judge arrested for granting Bennett bail

A judge in Zimbabwe has been arrested in the eastern town of Mutare for granting bail to a top aide of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, a lawyer said on Friday.

Magistrate Livingstone Chipadze on Wednesday had ordered the release of Roy Bennett, a deputy minister-designate from Tsvangirai’s party, in line with a high court ruling. Bennett was arrested last month.

His order was later suspended after prosecutors appealed the bail decision to the Supreme Court, which is still considering the case.

“Magistrate Livingstone Chipadze has been arrested,” lawyer Trust Maanda said.

Chipadze is accused of criminal abuse of authority “for ordering the release of Bennett after he was granted bail by the high court,” Maanda said.

Bennett, who was picked by Tsvangirai for the post of deputy agriculture minister, was arrested on February 13 as the new Cabinet was about to be sworn in for Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government.

He was accused of possessing arms for the purposes of banditry, terrorism and sabotage but was granted bail of $2 000 by the high court last week.

However, he has remained in custody as prosecutors mounted a series of appeals, finally turning to the nation’s highest court on Wednesday to keep him locked up.

Flurry of legal activity
Chipadze’s decision sparked a flurry of legal activity on Wednesday, with Bennett’s lawyers rushing to enforce the order while prosecutors scrambled to file their appeal at the Supreme Court, keeping Bennett locked away until the top court hands down its ruling.

Chipadze’s arrest immediately heightened concerns about the independence of the judiciary under Zimbabwe’s unity government between Tsvangirai and long-time ruler Robert Mugabe.

Bennett was originally accused along with other officials in Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of trying to assassinate Mugabe in 2006, when he fled to neighbouring South Africa to escape arrest.

Others charged in the plot, including MDC’s new joint Minister for Home Affairs Giles Mutsekwa, have already been cleared in a court ruling that discredited the alleged assassination plot.

Bennett, MDC’s treasurer, had farmed a coffee plantation until Mugabe’s government seized his land in 2003 as part of a politically charged and violent programme to give white-owned farms to black people.

The following year he was jailed for eight months for assault after he punched the justice minister during a heated debate in Parliament on the land programme.

Bennett’s case has raised doubts about the durability of the unity government, which is meant to end a year of political turmoil and haul the nation from economic collapse.—AFP


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