A Zimbabwean judge on Tuesday granted bail to Roy Bennett, a prominent official in the new prime minister’s party, but ordered him held at least another week while prosecutors decide whether to appeal.
Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party has called the arrest of Bennett and others a politically motivated attempt by factions in President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to derail the country’s 11-day-old unity government.
Bennett, who was arrested the day Cabinet ministers were sworn in, faces weapons charges linked to long-discredited accusations that Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party had plotted Mugabe’s violent overthrow.
At Tuesday’s High Court hearing, Judge Tedius Karwe criticized the new prime minister for writing a letter in support of Bennett’s bail application, calling the move “unprecedented.”
“We don’t want politicians to interfere with the work of the judiciary,” the judge said. “I hope that they will take heed of that, because we don’t want a clash of the executive and the judiciary.”
He then ruled Bennett could be granted US$2,000 bail.
Relatives and friends of Bennett, being held in Mutare prison, 270km east of Harare, were still embracing in celebration of the bail ruling when prosecutor Chris Mutangadura requested time to consider an appeal.
Judge Karwe was quick to grant it, saying Bennett would be held another week, drawing gasps from opposition supporters in the courtroom.
Bennett’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said there was “nothing amiss” in Tsvangirai writing in support of the bail request.
Mtetwa said Tsvangirai wrote to guarantee he would ensure Bennett would abide by any conditions set by the court.
Tsvangirai also wrote that Bennett, his deputy agriculture minister nominee, needed to be released to take up his duties, but pledged that those duties would not keep him from making court appearances.
Bennett, who is white, had his coffee farm in eastern Zimbabwe seized years ago under Mugabe’s policies, which capitalized on the country’s widespread resentment against the unjust division of land between whites and blacks that is a legacy of colonialism and white minority rule.
Critics say Mugabe has engineered Zimbabwe’s economic collapse, in part with land reforms that saw white-owned farms seized and given to his cronies instead going to impoverished blacks as he had claimed.
Zimbabwe’s power-sharing deal — created to end months of political deadlock after disputed elections last year — has united longtime political rivals in a quest to address Zimbabwe’s multiplying crises.
It keeps Mugabe as president after three decades in power, but many of his top aides have lost Cabinet posts to Tsvangirai and his aides.