State prosecutors in Mutare on Wednesday withdrew all charges against three officials and members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change still being held in connection with the discovery of weapons in a local home and allegations of a presidential assassination plot that seemed to be rapidly unraveling.
Authorities had alleged that several senior MDC figures in Manicaland province, of which Mutare is the capital, conspired to assassinate President Robert Mugabe when he visited the eastern border city last month for a gala celebration of his 82nd birthday, and said a cache of military weapons had been discovered.
But on Wednesday prosecutors suddenly withdrew all charges against Mutare North member of parliament Giles Mutsekwa, the opposition party's spokesman on defense issues, Manicaland MDC youth organizer Knowledge Nyamuka, and party member Thando Sibanda, and released them late in the evening, their lawyers said.
MDC Manicaland party treasurer Brian James was released on Tuesday.
Authorities continued to hold four others accused in the case, foremost among whom was Michael Peter Hitschmann, a Mutare man at whose home the arms cache is said to have been found, and three police officers. All appeared in court Wednesday.
Sources close to the case reported disagrement between the Central Intelligence Organization, a central agency in the Zimbabwe security apparatus, and the state attorney general’s office, over the decision to withdraw the charges.
Lawyer Trust Manda, representing the released opposition members, told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the decision could remove the legal threat to Roy Bennett, a former opposition member of parliament and Manicaland party chairman. His whereabouts could not be determined, but unconfirmed reports said that Bennett had left Zimbabwe via Mozambique to avoid arrest.
Bennett spent eight months in prison in 2004-2005 for shoving Justice Minister Patrick Chinimasa in May 2004 during a heated parliamentary debate on land reform - the sentence was imposed by the ruling ZANU-PF majority in parliament.
Reporter Rusere also reached Mutsekwa at his home in Mutare after his release.
Mutsekwa said he believed the arms charges and allegations of a conspiracy to kill Mr. Mugabe were brought against him and the others to disrupt preparations for the MDC's national congress, which is scheduled to open this weekend.