Accessibility links

Zimbabwe Opposition Legislator Sentenced to Year in Prison With Hard Labor


Roy Bennett, one of three white lawmakers in Zimbabwe's Parliament, has been taken to prison to serve a year with hard labor. He was sentenced by a Parliament dominated by the ruling Zanu PF party.

Zimbabwe's Parliament, unlike any other in Africa, has the power to send its members to prison if they breach parliamentary rules.

Opposition member Roy Bennett knocked down Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa during a heated debate in Parliament in May. Mr. Chinamasa, a beneficiary of several white owned farms, accused Mr. Bennett of being descended from thieves and murderers.

Last month a parliamentary committee dominated by the ruling Zanu PF decided his sentence. The vote to confirm it was confirmed in Parliament late Thursday.

During his trial by the parliamentary committee Mr. Bennett presented evidence of what his lawyers described as unparalleled persecution at the hands of state security agents since he was overwhelmingly elected in a ruling Zanu PF stronghold in 2000.

He claimed he was repeatedly arrested and tortured, his pregnant wife was attacked and miscarried, two of his workers were killed, and three of them were raped.

Mr. Bennett apologized to Parliament again on Thursday for pushing the justice minister and for undermining the dignity of Parliament. He asked the ruling Zanu PF why they hated him so much, and said he was ready to serve his year in jail.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change lawmakers were shocked when he was sentenced and several sobbed.

Criminal law experts say if Mr. Bennett was tried in a civilian court he would, at worst, have paid a fine of about $10.

Paul Themba Nyathi, spokesman for the MDC, said Roy Bennett's imprisonment had shocked the party.

"Travesty of justice. An assault on democratic principles that this country has fought for for years," he said. "I have nothing but admiration for Roy's resilence and strength in the face of what he has been through. He has stayed true to his principles and the outcome of this case is an indication of the struggles this country has to undertake and undergo so we have freedom and democracy for all of us."

At least 12 unelected lawmakers, appointed by President Robert Mugabe, contributed to the Zanu PF majority vote in Parliament.

Several MDC lawmakers, all elected to Parliament, later angrily debated among themselves whether there was any point in the MDC remaining in parliament.

Mr. Nyathi says the lawmakers will formally discuss the party's future participation in Parliament next week.

"We are going to meet as a party and take appropriate decisions. This is an emotional time for all of us, it would be inappropriate to take decisions at this juncture ...next week we will meet and appropriate actions will be taken," he said.

The MDC suspended participation in all elections in August until it says there is meaningful reform of electoral laws and processes.

XS
SM
MD
LG