A Zimbabwean court postponed the trial of key opposition figure Roy Bennett on Saturday to allow his lawyers time to prepare their case.
Bennett, the Movement for Democratic Change’s nominee for the deputy agriculture minister post, faces charges of possessing weapons for sabotage, banditry and terrorism. His trial had been scheduled to begin Monday at a high court in Mutare, but his defense team asked the judge for more time to prepare their case. “The High Court of Zimbabwe rules are very clear: There must be at least 10 working days of notice before the trial date commences,” said Bennett’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. “We really want him tried, but we want everything to be done in terms of the law.” It was not immediately clear when the trial would start. Bennett’s initial trial was to begin this week at a lower court in Mutare, about 185 miles southeast of the capital, Harare. However, prosecutors filed a new indictment Wednesday, sending the case to the high court, and Bennett was sent back to jail to await trial. He was freed on bail Friday. Ahead of Bennett’s release, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC leader, said Friday that his party will boycott the unity government by not participating in meetings with other government members.
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The delay in swearing in Bennett as deputy agricultural minister “is deliberate to frustrate him, to frustrate our constituency, to send the message, ‘Look, we can [govern] unilaterally.’ And that is what we are trying to oppose,” Tsvangirai said. He emphasized that the MDC is not withdrawing from the government. In addition to the weapons charge, court papers following Wednesday’s indictment now show that Bennett is charged with inciting people to committing insurgency, sabotage, terrorism and banditry, which carries a life imprisonment sentence. The weapons charge is punishable by death. Bennett, a white coffee grower, denies all wrongdoing. He accused President Robert Mugabe of continued “persecution and harassment.” “Evidence is there,” he said Saturday. “We know we are dealing with selective justice system and selective rule of law. It is part of the struggle and standing up for what is right. I have to be annoying someone so much for that persecution to continue. I have to say it must be President Robert Mugabe, himself.” Mugabe has said he will swear Bennett in only if the farmer is cleared of all crimes. Bennett said the charges would not dissuade him from his work. “I am here for as long as I can serve my country, my people and my party to the best of my ability,” he said. Bennett’s arrest in February came as other ministers where being sworn into the coalition government formed by Mugabe and Tsvangirai. The action almost derailed the power-sharing deal, which had been brokered by the regional Southern African Development Community after a hotly disputed election won by Mugabe last year. Bennett spent about a month in jail before the country’s Supreme Court ordered him released on bail in March.