Zimbabwe strike forces Bennett trial delay


The trial of Zimbabwe opposition politician Roy Bennett was postponed indefinitely yesterday as court workers joined a wage strike by government employees.

Court officials turned people away from the High Court in Harare, where Bennett, a close ally of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, is on trial charged with illegal possession of arms for “terrorism, banditry and sabotage”.
“The trial has been deferred indefinitely, on account of the strike,” Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, who is leading the state prosecution team, told Reuters.

Zimbabwe’s civil servants, who earn an average $160 per month, went on strike on Friday after wage negotiations with the government ended in a deadlock.

The strike is set to put pressure on Zimbabwe’s unity government, set up by Tsvangirai and bitter rival President Robert Mugabe last February. The government is struggling to raise at least $10 billion it says is needed to reconstruct the economy after a decade-long slump.

Bennett’s arrest and trial is another source of tension between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who nominated him deputy Agriculture Minister last year. Mugabe has refused to appoint Bennett, saying the courts should clear him first.

The state charges Bennett with funding a 2006 plot to blow up a major communication link and assassinate government figures. Bennett denies the charges, which carry a maximum death sentence, saying they are politically motivated.

Peter Hitschmann, an arms trader and state witness who faced the same charges but was convicted in 2006 on a lesser charge of possessing dangerous weapons, has denied Bennett was involved.

Last Friday, Judge Chinembiri Bhunu ruled that disputed emails linking Bennett to a conspiracy to procure arms and to blow up some communications targets could be used as evidence, despite objections by defence lawyers that the documents were fake.

The court had previously thrown out confessions by Hitschmann implicating Bennett, on the grounds that the statements had been extracted under torture.

Source: www.af.reuters.com