The trial of Roy Bennett, an ally of PM Morgan Tsvangirai, opened in Harare before being adjourned until Wednesday. Bennett, who faces terrorism charges, has been in and out of jail since returning to Zimbabwe to join a national unity government.
AFP - Roy Bennett, a top aide to Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, on Monday went on trial for terror charges before a packed courtroom in a case that has rocked Harare's fragile unity government.
His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa immediately sought to toss out testimony from state witnesses in the case accusing Bennett of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe three years ago.
Bennett's latest arrest last month prompted Tsvangirai to stage a three-week boycott of the unity government, underscoring tensions in the power-sharing arrangement.
The same charges against other MDC officials have already been thrown out of court, and one witness has testified that he only implicated Bennett in the alleged plot because he was tortured into doing so.
"I have been persecuted since I joined politics and I have been living in persecution since then. You never know when you are going to get justice," Bennett told reporters after the court proceedings.
Judge Chinembiri Bhunu adjourned the case until Wednesday, when he is expected to rule on whether the testimony can be submitted.
"This is a serious matter where someone else's life is an issue," Bennett's lawyer Mtetwa said. "The charges the accused is facing carry serious penalty -- that is death and life imprisonment."
Attorney general Johannes Tomana, who is prosecuting the case, said a speedy trial would be in the national interest.
"This is a very serious matter which must be accorded the amount of seriousness it demands, particularly in the environment the country is in," Tomana said.
Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has claimed a crackdown against its members, with the party's ally the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions saying five of its unionists were behind bars on Monday.
The five, including president Lovemore Matombo, were arrested Sunday and were likely to face charges of holding a meeting without notifying police, the congress said.
Bennett, a former coffee farmer, fled to South Africa in 2006, saying he feared for his life. Similar charges against another MDC official, co-minister for home affairs Giles Mutseyekwa, were thrown of court in 2006.
Mugabe has so far refused to swear in Bennett as his deputy agriculture minister saying he must first be cleared by the courts.
Tsvangirai only ended the government boycott after an emergency regional summit on Thursday set a new 30-day deadline for the rivals to sort out their differences -- including a dispute over Mugabe's appointment of Tomana, whom the MDC says is targetting its members.
Tsvangirai and his long-time rival agreed to the unity government nearly a year after disputed polls, which saw Mugabe handed the presidency in a one-man run-off, plunged the country into deeper economic and political crisis.
The unity pact helped arrest Zimbabwe's economic free-fall and created an opening to repair its international ties amid Western calls for greater signs of reform from Mugabe, the country's ruler since 1980.
Bennett's case has become a symbol of the challenges facing Zimbabwe's government.
Bennett, who speaks fluently the majority language Shona, saw his farm in eastern Zimbabwe seized in 2003 under Mugabe's controversial land reforms which targeted white-owned farms for resettlement by black farmers.
The following year he was jailed for eight months for assault after he punched Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa in parliament during a heated debate on the land reforms.
Date created : 2009-11-09