Bennett’s trial adjourned to Wednesday
By Violet Gonda
9 November 2009
The trial of Roy Bennett, the MDC Treasurer General and Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate who is facing terrorism charges, commenced in the High Court on Monday before Justice Chinembiri Bhunu. The State was represented by the controversial Attorney General Johannes Tomana, while Bennett’s lead counsel is Beatrice Mtetwa.
Bennett was not asked to plead as there were arguments exposing procedural difficulties for about two hours, when the legal teams were making their preliminary submissions. Mtetwa asked the court to strike down the State’s outline saying her client could not have a ‘fair trial’ since the statements from the State’s main witness, Peter Michael Hitschmann, were extracted through torture and that Hitschmann had not implicated the MDC official during his own trial. The Attorney General is arguing that the defence outline breached court regulations and is making an application to strike it out for being irregular.
Associated Press correspondent Angus Shaw who was in the courthouse said there is a stalemate, as the judge is being asked by both sides to strike down the other legal team’s outline. The trial is to resume on Wednesday where Justice Bhunu will rule on the arguments on both sides.
Shaw told SW Radio Africa: “What was striking to us observers was that the State’s case was very, very weak. The State is basing its case on Hitschmann’s evidence which is already on the record in the High Court when he was tried himself, as having been made under duress and under torture.”
The journalist said Tomana didn’t seem confident and that the proceedings were farcical. “He is not a fully fledged prosecutor as such and quite frankly he was not impressive today. He wasn’t confident and the State’s case looked very weak,” said the journalist.
The line up of State witness in the trial against Bennett is full of police officers and state security agents. Of 13 key witnesses for the State, 11 are either from the President’s office or from the police. The other two are Hitschmann and a person from TelOne. Reportedly the TelOne expert will go to court to provide evidence of a ‘technical nature’. The State alleges that Bennett was going to blow up some communications infrastructure.
The State’s key witness is Hitschmann, who was arrested in 2006 on charges of plotting to assassinate Robert Mugabe. He was cleared of these charges and also cleared of the charges that Bennett is also facing, possessing weapons for the purpose of terrorism. Although he was a registered firearms dealer Hitschmann spent more than two years in jail on lesser charges of possessing illegal weapons. Upon his release in July Hitschmann said he was tortured in custody and forced to make false confessions against Bennett.
Last Monday Hitschmann’s lawyer, Mordecai Mahlangu, was arrested for allegedly obstructing the course of justice, after he wrote a letter to the Attorney General protesting the subpoena that was issued to his client, directing him to testify against Bennett. Mahlangu’s letter said Hitschmann’s statements were extracted through torture. The lawyer was arrested and detained overnight at Harare Central police station.