Zimbabwe rules on Bennett witness
Zimbabwe’s High Court has said a former arms dealer can appear as a prosecution witness in the trial of Roy Bennett, a senior aide to PM Morgan Tsvangirai. However, the judge also permitted the defence to allege that Peter Hitschmann had been tortured into giving evidence.
Mr Bennett’s trial on terrorism charges has stalled over procedural issues. The ruling comes as ministers from Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) attended the first cabinet meeting since they ended a boycott.
Mr Bennett, a former farmer, denies all the charges against him, which include terrorism, insurgency, sabotage and banditry. He had been due to be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister when he was arrested and the MDC says the trial is politically motivated.
Lawyers for Mr Bennett said Mr Hitschmann, who was cleared of the same charges Mr Bennett is facing, had not previously been linked to the case and that his testimony was in effect fabricated. The MDC had pulled out of the coalition government with President Robert Mugabe for three weeks in protest, in part, over Mr Bennett’s treatment.
Mr Tsvangirai called off the boycott last Thursday, after mediation efforts by Zimbabwe’s neighbours. The BBC’s Southern Africa correspondent, Karen Allen, says the court’s decision to allow Mr Hitschmann to testify against Mr Bennett is likely to spark further argument over exactly how his testimony was obtained.
Mr Mugabe says he does not oppose Mr Bennett becoming a minister but says he should be acquitted by the courts first. On Sunday, Mr Tsvangirai told a rally on the outskirts of the capital that Mr Bennett “must be treated fairly” and that Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party “must show to the world that they are serious and are committed to democracy”.
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 February.