Page last updated at 16:01 GMT, Monday, 16 February 2009

Court delay for Zimbabwe nominee

Image from April 2008 showing Roy Bennett (L) with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in South Africa
Mr Bennett, here with PM Tsvangirai, has only just returned to Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe politician Roy Bennett is set to spend another night in jail after prosecutors failed to show up at court.

Mr Bennett - an MDC nominee for the new power-sharing government - was due in court in the town of Mutare to face insurgency and terrorism charges.

His lawyers now say police have applied to extend the period of time they can hold him without charge.

The MDC has condemned his arrest on Friday as politically motivated, and has called for his immediate release.

Mr Bennett was nominated by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for the position of deputy agriculture minister.

But he is now accused of conspiring to acquire arms with a view to disrupting essential services, according to his lawyer, Trust Maanda.


About 50 MDC supporters and members of the politician's family spent much Monday outside the courthouse in the eastern city of Mutare, waiting for Mr Bennett's trial to begin.

But hours after the expected start time, his lawyer Mr Maanda told the AFP news agency the trial had been delayed.

I should imagine if one gets to hell, that is what you experience
Roy Bennett, after serving a prison term in Zimbabwe

"His case will come up tomorrow in court. The prosecutors failed to show up today," Mr Maanda said.

Mr Bennett had been charged with treason following his arrest, but this was then changed to terrorism charges, Mr Maanda said earlier.

"They have now preferred charges of insurgency or attempting to commit acts of insurgency, terrorism and banditry," he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Mr Maanda said his client was accused of attempting to acquire arms and explosives to be used to sabotage essential services - charges Mr Bennett denies.

There has been no comment from the police or justice officials on the charges.

Mr Bennett is treasurer of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, and was the party's choice to be deputy agriculture minister in the new unity government.

A white farmer who lost his property under Mr Mugabe's land reform programme, Mr Bennett spent eight months in prison in 2004-05 for pushing a minister during an argument in parliament over land reform.

He recently returned to Zimbabwe after more than two years in South Africa, where he had fled after police sought his arrest in connection with an alleged plot to kill Mr Mugabe.

Economy in freefall

Mr Bennett is one of more than 30 MDC supporters and other activists who have been detained over the past couple of months.


On Saturday, Mr Tsvangirai said Mr Bennett's arrest was undermining the spirit of the power-sharing agreement.

The MDC's Tendai Biti, now finance minister, said the party had not yet decided how it would respond if Mr Bennett and other prisoners are not released.

"We will have to call an [emergency] meeting of our national council and decide," he told South Africa's Talk Radio 702.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Bennett's wife, Heather, called on Mr Tsvangirai and the MDC ministers to use their new positions of influence to secure her husband's release.

The success of the unity government is seen as key to helping Zimbabwe tackle its severe problems.

The country's economy is in freefall and about 3,400 Zimbabweans have now died from a cholera epidemic.

Potential Western donors want to see a stable government implementing necessary financial reforms before they will provide economic support.

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