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Zimbabwe High Court Drops Treason Charges Against 2 Opposition Officials - 2003-08-08

The Zimbabwe High Court has dropped treason charges against two senior opposition officials, but will continue the treason trial of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The High Court Judge, Paddington Garwe, agreed with the defense that there is not enough evidence to continue the prosecution of opposition party Secretary-General Welshman Ncube and member of parliament Renson Gasela.

But the judge ruled that there is enough evidence to force the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to mount a defense.

Legal analysts attending the long-running trial say Judge Garwe's ruling was expected.

The three men were all charged with plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe and stage a coup d'etat.

The trial began in February, and at the conclusion of the state's case, the defense asked for charges to be dropped.

It said the state's main witness, Canadian businessman Ari Ben Menashe, had been proved to be a liar. The defense also said a videotape recording of a meeting involving Mr. Tsvangirai contained nothing to connect the opposition leader with the charges.

After the court's announcement, the opposition secretary-general, Mr. Ncube, said, now that the charges against him have been dropped, he will testify on behalf of Mr. Tsvangirai. He said he was at an earlier meeting with Mr. Ben Menashe, and would tell the court that Mr. Tsvangirai was framed.

The opposition hired Mr. Ben Menashe as a lobbyist. The Zimbabwe government also hired him to promote its image overseas. But the government denies that it hired Mr. Ben Menashe to entrap Mr. Tsvangirai ahead of last year's presidential elections, which western observers say were rigged to give President Mugabe six more years in power.