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Zimbabwe Judge Sues MDC Party Leader for $1 Million


In a rare political case in Zimbabwe, a Harare High Court judge is suing a popular Movement for Democratic Change leader for $1 million for remarks allegedly made during a terrorism trial that ended in May.

Movement for Democratic Change Treasurer Roy Bennett was arrested when he returned to Harare from exile to join Zimbabwe's unity government in February 2009. He was arrested on weapons charges and accusations he had plotted to kill President Robert Mugabe.

Bennett was acquitted of the charges after an eight-month trial at the Harare High Court. A government appeal of the verdict has not yet been heard.

Judge Chinembiri Bhunu, who presided over the case, is suing Bennett, accusing him of making critical statements to the international media before the verdict.

Bhunu charges Bennett was quoted by the British newspaper the Guardian as saying he would be denied justice because Judge Bhunu would apply the law "selectively" because he is "compromised" by being a beneficiary of a white-owned farm.

State documents in the Land Affairs Ministry show Bhunu and many of Zimbabwe's top judges have been given white-owned farms since 2000.

Bennett's remarks to the Guardian were published a day before he was acquitted of charges by Judge Bhunu.

Two weeks ago, Bennett lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told journalists the police were looking for her client on charges of contempt of court. She says Bennett is out of Zimbabwe.

Bennett is a former farmer from eastern Zimbabwe who was violently dispossessed of his home and farm business in 2001. He has been arrested and beaten several times since then and in 2004 was sentenced to an effective eight months in a tough rural prison.

Mr. Mugabe's failure to swear Bennett into office as deputy agriculture minister is regularly cited by the Movement for Democratic Change as a serious failure of the political agreement signed two years ago by Mr. Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, now prime minister in the unity government.

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