HARARE – Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was told yesterday that a prominent member of the party would be held by police two more days without charge.
Roy Bennett was arrested three days ago. MDC representatives had hoped to see him in court yesterday.
But the party, which calls Bennett’s arrest politically motivated, said that police had asked the magistrate for permission to hold him another 48 hours, and the request was granted.
Attempts to reach police were unsuccessful.
MDC members have been holding a vigil outside the police station in Mutare, 270km east of Harare, where Bennett is being held.
Morgan Tsvangirai, the party’s leader and Zimbabwe’s new prime minister, has called Bennett’s arrest an attempt by factions in President Robert Mugabe’s party to derail the unity government.
Tsvangirai’s party reported earlier that police said Bennett would be accused of treason, which carries the death penalty. The party said police revised that on Sunday, saying Bennett faced a weapons charge instead.
Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal – created to end months of political deadlock after disputed elections last year – aims to have rival politicians work together to address Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown. It keeps Mugabe as president after three decades in power, but many of his top aides have lost cabinet posts to MDC politicians.
Bennett has had his coffee farm in eastern Zimbabwe seized. The MDC has nominated him to be deputy agriculture minister in the unity government.
The MDC indicated earlier that it may be reluctant to quit the unity government , despite the arrest of Bennett, said Finance Minister Tendai Biti.
“You have to sympathise with people that have no other hope other than this experiment. That alone is a force that will make you take a lot of nonsense for their sake,” Biti told Talk Radio 702.
Bennett’s lawyers said yesterday police had applied for leave to extend his detention for another 48 hours, delaying his court appearance in Mutare on charges of planning terrorism, just days after a cabinet was sworn in.
Bennett is also charged with sabotage and conspiring to acquire arms to disrupt essential services. The MDC said treason charges against him had been dropped.
Reports said yesterday that state prosecutors had failed to show up at the Mutare Magistrate’s Court. “We are disappointed with the turn of events because our client will continue languishing in police holding cells until the expiry of 48 hours,” lawyer Chris Ndlovu said outside the court.
Yesterday, dozens of heavily armed police were deployed outside the Mutare court where about 100 MDC supporters held “Free Roy” placards.
As finance minister, Biti faces the enormous task of figuring out a way to rescue Zimbabwe’s ruined economy.
“It’s a million-dollar question,” he said. “ You are dealing with a battered economy. And the challenge is to panel-beat it into some semblance of an economy in a very short period of time. The honeymoon is going to be very short.” Sapa-AP With Bloomberg, Reuters