/ 15 October 2009

Zim judge orders Bennett back to jail

A prominent aide to Zimbabwe’s prime minister was sent to jail to await trial on charges linked to long-discredited allegations his party plotted President Robert Mugabe’s violent overthrow.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has said the case against Roy Bennett threatened the coalition he joined with Mugabe earlier this year.

Tsvangirai had nominated Bennett as deputy agriculture minister in the coalition. Bennett was arrested the day the Cabinet was sworn in and charged with weapons violations. He denies the charges against him.

Bennett had been free on bail since March. In a maneuver that appeared staged to ensure he was jailed again, prosecutors filed a new indictment Wednesday and he was sent to jail.

Magistrate Lucy Mungwari said the accusations needed to be settled in court, and ordered Bennett back to jail. He was taken immediately to the cells and will have to reapply for bail on Monday.

Bennett’s trial was set to begin on Tuesday, and he waited in court all day only to have prosecutors appear at 4pm and ask to start on Wednesday.

Obert Gutu, a senator from Tsvangirai’s party and a lawyer, said returning Bennett to jail ”will create unnecessary tension” in an already troubled coalition.

”The re-arrest at a time when we are trying to work together as the inclusive government clearly shows that the arrest of Bennett is politically motivated and is political persecution,” Gutu said.

”We know that there are some hard-liners within the Zanu-PF who have never liked Bennett.”

Only weeks ago, those pushing for democratic reform in Zimbabwe were heartened when the Supreme Court released nine activists and dropped all charges against them because they had been tortured and beaten in jail. The court said their constitutional rights had been violated to such an extent that the trial could not go ahead.

Accusations that the activists had been plotting to overthrow Mugabe had been widely denounced as trumped-up and politically motivated.

The group included members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party.

Zimbabwe’s neighbours had urged Mugabe, who has held power since independence in 1980, to form a partnership with former labour leader Tsvangirai after last year’s presidential election was
marred by violence. In forming their coalition in February, the longtime opponents pledged to work together to turn around the country’s economic and political collapse.

Since the coalition was formed, Mugabe has demanded that Tsvangirai do more to get international sanctions lifted and restore foreign aid and investment. Tsvangirai has condemned continuing human rights violations.

Both sides, though, say they see the coalition as the way forward. It is Mugabe’s only hope for taking Zimbabwe out of international isolation, and it has brought Tsvangirai closer to power than any election. – Sapa-AP