Robert Mugabe's Supreme Court denies Bennett freedom

HARARE – Zimbabwe's Supreme Court on Thursday granted prosecutors the right to appeal against a ruling granting bail to MDC official Roy Bennett, in a case that has raised tension in the new unity government.

Bennett, who had been set to become a junior minister, was arrested on February 13 and charged with plotting terrorism, which carries a possible life sentence. He will remain in custody until a hearing date is set, said prosecutor Chris Mutangadura.

His arrest is an early test for the new government in which President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) share power.

Bennett’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said she was disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling, especially after the judge told prosecutors that "they hardly have any prospect of success" on the bail appeal.

The new government faces an array of crises: food and fuel shortages, the world’s worst hyperinflation, and a cholera outbreak in which nearly 88,000 people have been infected, with nearly 4,000 killed, according to the World Health Organisation.

Tsvangirai said on Thursday that cases of infections and deaths from the country’s worst cholera epidemic were far higher than those reported.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, blames Western sanctions for the once-prosperous country’s economic decline. His opponents blame Mugabe’s own policies on nationalisation and the seizure of land from white farmers.

Western donors, whose aid is crucial to the country’s recovery, are waiting for signs that the power-sharing government is working, and ready to enact reforms, before they will release funds. 

Tsvangirai on Wednesday made his first call for an end to international sanctions, part of his bid to start rebuilding the shattered economy.

But U.S. President Barack Obama announced the same day he had extended sanctions against Zimbabwe, saying the southern African nation had not resolved its political crisis.