Zimbabwe court grants MDC official bail

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe's High Court granted MDC official Roy Bennett bail on Tuesday, but he could stay in custody for another week because state lawyers said they would appeal against the court's ruling.

The Movement for Democratic Change treasurer-general was arrested on February 13, shortly after returning to Zimbabwe for the swearing in of a unity cabinet appointed by President Robert Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Bennett, who had been earmarked to become deputy agriculture minister, faces charges of plotting terrorism, insurgency and banditry. He denies the charges.

High Court judge Tedius Karwi said Bennett was unlikely to abscond or interfere with investigations.

"I’m satisfied that the interest of justice would be served by admitting the applicant (Bennett) to bail," Karwi said.

State prosecutors have to lodge their appeal within seven days.

Karwi ordered that Bennett pay $2,000 in bail, surrender his passport and report to a police station twice a week.

During the hearing, Bennett’s lawyers produced a letter written by Tsvangirai, in his capacity as prime minister, guaranteeing that Bennett would not flee the country.

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.

Last Wednesday, a magistrate ruled Bennett had a case to answer and remanded him in custody. If convicted, Bennett faces life imprisonment.

A white farmer who lost his farm under the Mugabe government’s land seizures, Bennett 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 country’s east.