Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Zimbabwe's Bennett trial delayed

Roy Bennett
Roy Bennett is treasurer for the Movement for Democratic Change

The politically divisive trial of a senior aide to Zimbabwe's prime minister has been adjourned after two hours of legal arguments.

Roy Bennett was arrested on terror charges as he was due to be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister.

The attorney-general said the case was "a serious matter which must be treated with the seriousness it demands".

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has called for the trial, which he calls a "malicious prosecution", to stop.

The case was one of several issues which led Mr Tsvangirai to pull out of the coalition government he formed with President Robert Mugabe in February.

He called off the three-week boycott last Thursday, after mediation efforts by Zimbabwe's neighbours.

Torture confession

The trial is to resume on Wednesday.

The prosecution is challenging some defence submissions, while the defence is calling for an inquiry into the conduct of Attorney General Johannes Tomana, who is prosecuting in this case.

Former coffee farmer - land seized by government
2000: Elected MP
2004: Jailed after pushing minister in parliament
2006: Accused of plot to kill President Mugabe
2006: Fled to South Africa
2009: Nominated as deputy agriculture minister; arrested

The MDC accuses Mr Tomana of persecuting its members and wants him to be sacked.

Mr Bennett's defence team says Mr Tomana should be barred from calling key prosecution witness Peter Hitschmann.

He was convicted of illegal possession of weapons in 2006 but says he only implicated Mr Bennett after he was tortured.

Mr Bennett faces charges of terrorism, insurgency, sabotage and banditry in a case that the Movement for Democratic Change says is politically motivated. He denies all the charges against him.

Several cases of ammunition and rifles were brought into the High Court as evidence.

Mr Bennett was described as sitting with his head bowed throughout the opening of the case. Some of the charges carry the death penalty.

On Sunday, Mr Tsvangirai told a rally on the outskirts of the capital that Mr Bennett "must be treated fairly".

"[Mr Mugabe's] Zanu-PF must show to the world that they are serious and are committed to democracy," he added.

Mr Mugabe says he does not oppose Mr Bennett becoming a minister but says he should be acquitted by the courts first.

After being accused of links to an alleged plot to kill Zimbabwe's veteran president in 2006, Mr Bennett fled to South Africa, saying he feared for his life.

He returned shortly before he was arrested in Feburary.

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