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Defense for Zimbabwe's Roy Bennett Challenges Key Prosecution Witness

The terrorism trial of Zimbabwean opposition figure Roy Bennett got under way on Monday with Attorney General Johannes Tomana in the courtroom but was quickly adjourned so the judge could consider a defense motion to throw out key prosecution testimony.

Bennett, a member of the senate designated deputy minister of agriculture for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change formation, faces the capital charge of illegally possessing weapons for the purpose of terrorism, banditry and insurgency.

After opening arguments, High Court Justice Muchineripi Bhunu adjourned the case for two days so he could consider motions from the defense and prosecution.

Defenders led by the prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, asked the court to exclude testimony by Peter Hitschmann, a former constable who went to prison in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe in 2006. Several officials of the Tsvangirai MDC including Bennett were accused at that time, but the alleged conspiracy fell apart though Hitschmann was eventually convicted of illegal possession of weapons.

Mtetwa said Hitschmann’s testimony would contradict a sworn affidavit and statements he made to the High Court in 2006 saying Bennett had nothing to do with the weapons found in Hitschmann’s possession. Hitschmann has said he does not want to testify.

Attorney General Tomana called the Bennett case a grave matter "that must be awarded the amount of seriousness it demands.” Tomana asked the court to dismiss Bennett’s defense outline, arguing that the document had been improperly presented.

Bennett, whose case was at the center of the recent unity government crisis, told reporters on his way out of court that he has long been persecuted by officials of President Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, adding that "you never know when you are going to get justice.”

Defender Mtetwa told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that it is obvious the state wants to compel Hitschmann to testify though it knows Bennett has no case to answer.

Political analyst John Makumbe said the Bennett case has become highly politicized and a source of strained relations within the fractious national unity government

Elsewhere, police in Matabeleland North province on Monday continued to hold Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions President Lovemore Matombo and four other union officials arrested in Victoria Falls on Sunday for allegedly holding an illegal meeting.

Detained with Matombo were national organizer Michael Kandukutu, western region officer Percy Mcijo and executive members Dumisani Ncube and Nawu Ndlovu.

Union lawyer Nomagugu Mahlangu told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that her clients were fingerprinted Monday and will be arraigned Tuesday.

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