Zimbabwe high court dismisses terrorism charges against cabinet nominee

[JURIST] Zimbabwe's Supreme Court [court website] on Monday dismissed terrorism and other charges against Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] party treasurer and deputy agriculture minister-nominee Roy Bennett [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Bennett, a close ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] ally and opponent of President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], was acquitted after the presiding judge found insufficient evidence to convict [AP report]. Bennett had faced charges under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act [materials] for unlawfully possessing weapons and provoking others "to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage." The weapons charges had carried a potential death sentence. Tsvangirai had nominated Bennett to be deputy agriculture minister, but Mugabe refused to swear him in until Bennett was cleared of all charges. Bennett now expects Mugabe to uphold [CNN report] those terms.

In January of this year, Zimbabwe's high court rejected [JURIST report] evidence from a key witness in Bennett's trial, ruling that statements the state intended to use to impeach Peter Michael Hitschmann's testimony were not freely made by Hitschmann and were invalid as evidence. Bennett's trial began in November after delays in October to allow his counsel to develop a defense. Bennett was originally arrested on weapons charges in February 2009, and was released [JURIST reports] on bail the following month. He was then re-arrested on the same charges in October, only to be released on bail again. Treason charges against him were dropped in favor of the terrorism and other charges. Bennett was originally sought for questioning [JURIST report] in relation to similar allegations in 2006 but had obtained asylum [IOL report] in South Africa.

 

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