Deputy agriculture minister-designate Roy Bennett has been ordered by a Zimbabwean court to remain in custody until March 4 on charges of attempting to commit terrorism, banditry, and sabotage. The Mutare riot squad was out in force ahead of the ruling in anticipation of violence that may erupt outside the courtroom when Bennett is taken back to the Mutare Remand Prison later Wednesday.
Dressed in a khaki prison uniform, Roy Bennett watched as his lawyers asked the court to drop the charges against their client, saying another court had thrown out similar ones in a related case in 2006.
Bennett's lawyers say they will take his case to the High Court Harare Thursday to seek bail.
The MDC has said the charges against Bennett are "trumped up" and have demanded his release.
The terror plot charge against Bennett relates to the 2006 discovery of weapons in the house of a currently imprisoned former policeman, Peter Michael Hischmann. The immigration charge, which was dropped, stemmed from Bennett's arrest last week at a Harare airport where he was accused trying to leave Zimbabwe without reporting to an immigration officer.
There are at least another 11 people in detention in Harare, accused of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, one of them a freelance photojournalist. They have failed to get released on bail for more than two months. The state has also failed to give them a trial date.
Some of them were kidnapped from their homes late October. A further five of that group are now under armed guard at a private hospital in Harare receiving treatment.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights says many of those kidnapped say they were assaulted and tortured.
There are also at least another 20 civil rights activists and MDC supporters in other prison cells around the country who have been charged with relatively minor offenses, who are also still in detention.
The MDC says there are another 11 of its members who have disappeared.
Bennett's arrest and detention has cast a shadow over the unity government which began work on Monday. He is scheduled to be sworn-in as deputy agriculture minister later this week.