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Verdict in Treason Trial of Zimbabwe Opposition Leader Expected Friday - 2004-10-13


Zimbabweans are bracing themselves for the verdict Friday in the treason trial of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. If found guilty Mr. Tsvangirai could face the death sentence.

Morgan Tsvangirai is accused of hiring Canadian businessman Ari Ben Menashe to plot the assassination of President Robert Mugabe before presidential elections in March 2002.

The year-long trial concluded last February and Mr. Tsvangerai been waiting since then for the verdict.

Political commentator and human rights activist Brian Kagoro said the charges, coming as they did when the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, was only 30-months-old has almost crippled the party.

He said the two top MDC leaders, who had to surrender their passports because of the trial, were unable to travel in Africa to explain the young party's policies.

Mr. Kagoro, co-chairman of the Zimbabwe Crises Coalition, said the trial had also crippled the Movement for Democratic Change financially and forced it to scale down its political protests to avoid aggravating the treason charges.

The state relied on two pieces of evidence, Mr. Ben Menashe's testimony, and a tape he secretly recorded when he met Mr. Tsvangirai in Canada in late 2001. The state said the tape recording proved that Mr. Tsvangirai tried to hire Mr. Menashe for the assassination plot.

Mr. Tsvangirai denies the charge and says the conversation recorded in Canada was a discussion about possible political scenarios ahead of the presidential poll, including the possibility of Mr. Mugabe's sudden death and its constitutional implications.

Mr. Tsvangirai's two colleagues, one of them MDC Secretary-General Welshman Ncube, were earlier acquitted for lack of evidence.

Mr. Tsvangirai was defended by famed South African advocate George Bizos, who defended former South African President Nelson Mandela on similar charges 40 years ago.

Mr. Bizos argued that Mr. Ben Menashe had set out to entrap his client. He also described Mr. Ben Menashe as an unmitigated liar, and international crook. Mr. Ben Menashe accused Mr. Bizos of being a well-known racist.

The court established that Mr. Ben Menashe was paid $615,000 by the Zimbabwe government for securing the tape recording and for publicity work for Mr. Mugabe.