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Zimbabwe Court to Allow Torture Allegations in Bennett Trial

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A Zimbabwe High Court judge has ruled Movement for Democratic Change treasurer-general Roy Bennett may raise allegations of torture during his treason trial. This long-delayed trial has strained Zimbabwe's power-sharing government.

Roy Bennett's defense lawyers had asked state witness Michael Hitschmann be barred from testifying, because they said he had been tortured into making a confession, had not signed that statement, and did not implicate Bennett in it after he was arrested in 2006.

Hitschmann, a gun dealer and collector, was acquitted of the same terrorism charges Bennett now faces, but served a two-year sentence for possession of unlicensed guns, including several automatic weapons.

Judge Chinembiri Bhunu said the charges against Bennett are serious and therefore technicalities should not stand in the way of evidence, indicating Hitschmann will have to testify at some point. But Judge Bhunu said he would allow questions about torture allegations made by Hitschmann.

Hitschmann submitted an application to the court claiming the statement he made when he was originally detained in eastern city of Mutare, was obtained under duress. Hitschmann said he was tortured after he was arrested.

The lawyer who submitted Hitschmann's application last week was later detained for 48 hours, accused of obstructing justice.

After the Judge Bhunu's ruling, Attorney-General Johannes Tomana, who is leading the prosecution, asked for time until Thursday to arrange his prosecution. The state has listed eight other witnesses, all policemen or members of Zimbabwe's spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organization.

Bennett's arrest last month led Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to partially disengage from the 10-month-old unity government that includes his Movement for Democratic Change and President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF.

After South Africa said last week it would more closely monitor progress in resolving outstanding issues of the political agreement that led to formation of a power-sharing government, Mr. Tsvangirai ended his boycott of Cabinet meetings.