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Zimbabwe Appeals Electoral Court Ruling on Jailed Parliamentarian


The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a electoral court ruling that a jailed member of parliament can participate in the March 31 parliamentary election.

The appeal pits the chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Judge George Chiweshe as one of the applicants against Judge Tendai Uchena of the Electoral Court.

Earlier this month, Judge Uchena ruled that Roy Bennett an opposition Movement for Democratic Change legislator serving a prison sentence for a scuffle in parliament, can stand in his constituency from his prison cell.

Mr. Bennett had sought the intervention of the Electoral Court after the nomination court rejected his nomination saying he is a criminal. In his ruling, Judge Uchena said Mr. Bennett is qualified by law to stand for election since he was sentenced by parliament and not a court of law.

Mr. Bennett is serving a year with labor in a rural prison after being found guilty of contempt of parliament by the majority ruling ZANU-PF legislators. The trial by parliament came after he knocked Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to the floor during a heated debate in the house.

Judge Uchena postponed polling day in Mr. Bennett's constituency to April 30, a month after the general election for 120 parliamentary seats. Mr. Bennett, jailed last year, could be out of jail in June if his sentence is reduced for good behavior.

After the rejection of his nomination by the nomination court, his wife, Heather agreed to stand in the place of the hugely popular legislator. Mr. Bennett, one of three white members of parliament has represented a predominantly black rural constituency since 2000.

President Robert Mugabe described Judge Uchena's ruling as "absolute nonsense" and said it would be appealed.

Beatrice Mtetwa, the lawyer for Mr. Bennett told VOA that she saw a direct link between Mr. Mugabe's outburst and the appeal. "If they wanted to appeal they should have announced it immediately, now they are merely responding to the president's displeasure," she said.

Calling the president's words intimidating, Ms. Mtetwa added that it proves opposition claims that the Electoral Commission is not independent. The five person commission comprises of four commissioners appointed by the president from a list of seven nominees submitted by members of the ruling party and the opposition but its chairperson is appointed by the president.

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