Top South African judge to monitor Bennett trial

Harare – South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Azhar Cachalia is visiting Zimbabwe to observe the ongoing trial of Deputy Agriculture Minister Designate Roy Bennett, who is charged with plotting acts of terrorism in the country.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which is an international non-governmental organisation comprising sixty of the world’s most eminent jurists dedicated to the primacy, coherence and implementation of international law and principles that advance human rights, said Justice Cachalia observation of the trial will assist the ICJ to evaluate the fairness of the trial of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s top aide.

“Justice Cachalia’s experience will therefore be invaluable in assisting the ICJ to come to a conclusion on the fairness or otherwise of the Bennett trial process” said Martin Masiga, the senior legal adviser at the ICJ Africa Programme.

Bennett is charged with the possession of weapons with the intention to commit sabotage, terrorism, banditry and insurgency.

He had earlier been charged with treason but this was dropped.

“The trial of Roy Bennett is significant as Zimbabwe goes through its transitional phase because serious allegations of executive use or misuse of the justice system to persecute legitimate opposition to it have been made,” said Masiga.

The ICJ said the question as to whether the trial of Roy Bennett is in good faith at all or is politically motivated continues to overshadow his trial.

“The handling of what to charge Bennett with and the failure to explain the multiple changes in charges against him raised suspicion. The issuing of summons and/or arrest of some the lawyers defending Roy Bennett and his potential witnesses deepened the suspicions,” the ICJ said.

The State has exhibited rare zeal in matters of criminal prosecution when the Attorney General Johannes Tomana personally appeared in court to prosecute the case against Bennett.

Justice Cachalia who is a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, South Africa has had a distinguished career as a lawyer and judge.

He has over the years developed expertise as a judge in dealing with evidence alleged to have been obtained unlawfully through torture for example in the celebrated precedent setting case of Mthembu v The State (64/2007) [2008] ZASCA 51 (10 April 2008).

Justice Cachalia has previously visited Malaysia in 2002 as part of a delegation from the Joseph R.Crawley Program in International Human Rights at Fordham Law School, which undertook a study of that country’s Internal Security Act.

More recently he visited Cairo at the invitation of Freedom House to examine, among other things, the impact of the ongoing state of emergency in Egypt on democratic opposition in that country.