A Harare High Court judge Wednesday dealt a blow to the state's case against 30 members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai in granting bail to Ian Makone, a Tsvangirai elections advisor.
In court papers, police had described Makone as the prime suspect and mastermind of what authorities called a campaign of “domestic terrorism.”
But Judge Tedius Karwi took a swipe at the police in his ruling.
"I do not agree with the approach taken by the respondent, in particular by Assistant Commissioner Mabunda, that the applicant should be kept in custody at all costs because he is the most dangerous man in the country," Karwi stated.
"This attitude would seem to suggest that the applicant is a convicted terrorist which obviously is not the case," the judge continued. "Our law presumes people to be innocent until proven guilty."
Karwi lavished praise on Makone, describing him as a man of substance with a long history of social and economic responsibility.
Nonetheless, the judge set bail at a record Z$150 million (US$1,400). Makone is also obliged to report to the law and order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police daily and to surrender title deeds to three houses that he owns.
Prosecutors said the detained opposition officials and members’ masterminded firebombings of police posts and various civilian targets including a train. They have been held for the most part since March 28, when police raided the Tsvangirai faction headquarters at Harvest House in the capital, purportedly in search of evidence.
MDC officials said the charges were trumped up by the government to justify its crackdown on the opposition in the run-up to 2008 elections.
The opposition says more than 800 party activists have been abducted, tortured, beaten or detained by security forces since the crackdown began in March.
Karwi set bail despite opposition by prosecutors and Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi, who had filed documents claiming the detainees received military training in South Africa and had committed acts of terrorism the state needed to investigate.
But the judge ruled that Mohadi's filings did not justify denying Makone bail.
After Karwi’s ruling, Makone's lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he considered the bail conditions too stringent.
Makoni, reached soon after his release, expressed defiance, but said conditions in Harare Central Remand Prison had been deplorable.
He said the prison is holding twice its capacity and that inmates are starving.
Those still in detention include Paul Madzore, member of parliament for Glen View and many MDC staff members who were arrested in the raid on party headquarters.