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Political Tension Rises in Zimbabwe as Arraignment of MDC Minister Delayed

A Zimbabwean magistrate Thursday deferred for 24 hours an application for bail by Deputy Youth Minister Thamsanqa Mahlangu of the Movement for Democratic Change, arrested this week on charges he stole a mobile phone from a war veteran with close ties to ZANU-PF.

The treatment of Mahlangu by police and prosecutors has angered the MDC formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, stoking suspicions that ZANU-PF, led by President Robert Mugabe, is systematically bringing charges against MDC parliamentarians in the aim of removing them from the House of Assembly where the party holds a majority.

Including Mahlangu, 14 MDC House members and one senator have become entangled in the legal system. Five of them have been convicted and sentenced to date.

The Tsvangirai MDC issued a statement Thursday calling the latest charges “trumped up.”

Mahlangu is accused of stealing a cell phone from Joseph Chinotimba, vice chairman of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, whose organization is closely allied with ZANU-PF and whose members ardently back President Mugabe in particular.

The Mahlangu case took a new twist Thursday with reports the handset was found in the possession of Youth Minister Saviour Kasukuwere of ZANU-PF to whom Mahlangu allegedly gave the phone after learning police were seeking to question him.

Mahlangu’s lawyer, Charles Kwaramba, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the case has become highly politically charged.

Prominent Bulawayo lawyer Job Sibanda told VOA reporter Chris Gande that as Mahlangu is a public figure the police should have issued a summons rather than arresting him.

Political analyst Joy Mabenge told VOA in an interview from South Africa that prosecution of MDC lawmakers by the ZANU-PF-dominated judiciary is cause for concern.

In the Midlands province capital of Gweru, a magistrate Thursday rejected an application filed by counsel for Kwekwe Mayor Shadreck Tobaiwa - a member of the Tsvangirai MDC formation - and lawyer Tapera Sengweni asking that obstruction of justice charges be dismissed.

The magistrate set a trial date though the defense said it would seek a high court review, as Studio 7 correspondent Taurai Shava reported from Gweru.

Authorities in Mutare, Manicaland province, released MDC parliamentarian Meke Makuyana of the Chipinge South constituency on US$100 bail. Makuyana was convicted of kidnapping and sentenced to 18 months in prison early this year. He has appealed the judgment.

MDC sources said police in Mutare meanwhile detained MDC provincial security officer Jack Robert Saunyama, who is accused of committing public violence.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...