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Zimbabwe's MDC Legislator Roy Bennett Faces Weapons Charges


Zimbabwe's unity government's designated deputy agriculture minister Roy Bennett has been charged with possessing weaponry, banditry, and attempting to commit terrorism, in a court in Mutare in eastern Zimbabwe. Roy Bennett is also being charged with entering and leaving Zimbabwe illegally.

Section 27 of Zimbabwe's criminal law, under which Bennett is charged, lumps possession of weapons to be used for banditry, sabotage and terrorism in the same clause. The sentence for those found guilty is worded as life imprisonment or a shorter period.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change party says the charges against Bennett are politically motivated and the party demands his immediate release.

Roy Bennett has been locked up and assaulted in detention several times since 2000 when he was elected as a legislator for the Movement for Democratic Change in a small town in south eastern Zimbabwe.

He was dressed in casual clothes in court Tuesday, including flip flops on his feet, the same clothes he was wearing when arrested. He was cheerful and the court was packed with people.

He is also to be charged with leaving and entering Zimbabwe illegally. He fled into exile in South Africa in 2006.

At that stage no warrant for his arrest had been issued. He returned to Harare in the past two weeks via Harare International Airport

He was detained last Friday on an aircraft cleared for take off, and which was carrying other passengers to Nelspruit in eastern South Africa. Bennett had cleared immigration at the small airport west of Harare.

The state alleged that Bennett tried to leave for South Africa without going through proper immigration procedures which was denied and Bennett's passport was produced in court as well as a copy of the aircraft's manifest.

A decision on bail will be made Wednesday afternoon after the swearing in of the Zimbabwe unity government's deputy ministers which would be too late for Bennett, even if he is granted bail.

The case has attracted extraordinary attention in the small town of Mutare where the case is being heard. Bennett has many supporters. People are camped outside the police station at night. They say they are ensuring he is safe and is not kidnapped from his police cell.

Defense lawyers argue that none of the charges are relevant to Bennett and the state has had to recall one judge from the bench after he was accused of being an interested party.

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