High Court to rule on Bennett bail bid

HARARE – Zimbabwe's High Court will rule on Tuesday on a bail application by a senior Movement for Democratic Change official, Roy Bennett facing terrorism charges, the party said on Saturday.\r\n

Roy Bennett, the MDC’s treasurer-general, was arrested on February 13, shortly before a unity cabinet appointed by President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC was sworn into office.

On Wednesday, a magistrate ruled Bennett had a case to answer and remanded him in custody, prompting his lawyers to lodge a bail application at the High Court. If convicted, Bennett faces life imprisonment.

"Roy Bennett’s bail application will be heard in the Harare High Court on Tuesday 24th of February 2009," the MDC said in a statement.

"We maintain that the cases against Roy Bennett have no basis in law and are trumped up, vindictive, malicious and politically motivated. Roy Bennett and all political prisoners must be released immediately, unconditionally and unharmed."

Tsvangirai said last week that Bennett’s arrest and the detention of MDC supporters and human rights activists risked undermining the unity government and efforts to stabilise the economy. The MDC has stopped short of saying it could pull out.

Bennett recently returned from exile in South Africa after fleeing Zimbabwe three years ago when police linked him to the discovery of an arms cache in the eastern region of the country.

FOUNDING MDC MEMBER 

A former white farmer who lost his farm under the government’s land redistribution programme, Bennett is a founding MDC member and one of Mugabe’s most outspoken critics.

He has been charged with illegally possessing firearms for purposes of trying to commit acts of insurgency, banditry and terrorism. A charge linked to violation of the Immigration Act was dropped earlier this week.

Zimbabwe’s government, formed between the MDC and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, must find a solution to an economic meltdown that has led to hyperinflation and a virtually worthless local currency. Prices double every day.

Kamalesh Sharma, secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat, said on Saturday the power-sharing deal had sparked hopes the country would stabilise.

"It took a long time getting there. Finally that they have an agreement, we can only hope that from now on that the political situation will ease off, the social and economic situation will improve and stabilise," Sharma told Reuters in an interview in Dar es Salaam.

Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth five years ago.

"The general expectation among the membership is that there will come a time to rejoin the family. But there’s no indication at the present point in time that the moment they would like to rejoin is imminent," Sharma said. – Reuters