Officials in Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party have offered to release imprisoned opposition leaders in exchange for a promise of amnesty covering the party’s nearly 30-year rule, one jailed politician’s wife said Wednesday.
Roy Bennett, who had been slated to be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister before his arrest last week, has refused the deal — “and I think every single Zimbabwean would want him to,” Heather Bennett told CNN. Roy Bennett was arrested Friday on terrorism-related charges before he could take his new post in the unity government that took office last week in Harare. He is a longtime Mugabe foe who served as treasurer of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Heather Bennett would not identify which members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party offered the deal, but she said the party wants a blanket amnesty for any crimes committed between Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 and 2009. Cabinet ministers in the new government have either denied the amnesty-for-release allegation or refused to comment. Roy Bennett has been charged with illegally possessing firearms for the purposes of trying to commit acts of insurgency, banditry and terrorism and to illegally leave the country, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Zimbabwe cholera epidemic worsening
Arrested Zimbabwe politician charged
“Roy is a thorn in their side, and they know that with Roy in government, it’s not going to be an easy ride for them,” his wife said. “He’s going to be checking them all the time by doing this, and I fear that they are going to try and put him away for a long time.” Bennett’s arrest strained the first meeting of a Cabinet assembled under a hard-won power-sharing deal between the Zanu-PF and MDC, an agreement aimed at ending the lingering impasse from last year’s disputed elections. The deal puts MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the newly created post of prime minister, and Heather Bennett said Tsvangirai’s inability so far to free her husband has left the party looking weak. If Tsvangirai “acts decisively and has Roy released, that may bring back a shred of respect to the MDC,” she said. “But at this stage, they are looking like they lack leadership.”
Zimbabwe’s new leaders are grappling with a massive humanitarian and economic crisis. Many civil servants — including teachers, doctors and nurses — have been on strike since September, demanding higher pay as Zimbabwe’s currency has plummeted in value. That has caused many schools to close and exacerbated a cholera epidemic that has killed nearly 4,000 people and infected about 65,000 people since August. Bennett’s next court date is set for March, but his lawyer plans on lodging an application for bail on Thursday. Heather Bennett said she is not holding out any hope her husband will be released anytime soon.