Zimbabwe judge sues Bennett for $1m

2010-09-28 12:07

Harare – A Harare High Court judge is suing Roy Bennett, one of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s closest aides, for $1 million (about R7 million) for remarks the dispossessed white farmer made about the judge during his terrorism trial this year, according to official papers.

The popular Bennett (53) has been constantly harassed by authorities loyal to President Robert Mugabe since he joined Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 2000.

Judge Chinembiri Bhunu acquitted Bennett in May this year after an eight-month trial for terrorism. The state promptly appealed his acquittal. That appeal has yet to be heard.

Now, the judge in his trial is filing for defamation, claiming that media statements allegedly made by Bennett during his trial insinuated the judge would not give him a fair trial.

In papers lodged in the high court last Friday that were seen by the German Press Agency DPA, Bennett is accused of saying that Bhunu was “totally compromised” as a judge because he had been given a farm seized from a former white farmer as “political patronage”.

Bennett is also accused of saying Bhunu was a political appointee who would apply the law “selectively”.

The remarks were published on the website of Britain’s Guardian newspaper on May 9, a day before Bhunu found Bennett not guilty.

Official records on the beneficiaries of Mugabe’s land reform programme show that Bhunu was allocated a portion of the Carruthersville farm in the district of Marondera just east of Harare after the farm was seized from white farmer Bruce Campbell.

At least four of the Supreme Court’s eight judges, including the chief justice, occupy white-owned farms, according to official records.

Two weeks ago, Bennett’s lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said police were searching for Bennett on charges of contempt of court related to the Guardian story.

“I have not seen the summons,” Mtetwa said today, refusing to comment further until contacting Bennett, whom she believed to be in Canada.

Tsvangirai appointed Bennett deputy minister of agriculture in the coalition government he and Mugabe established in February lat year.

Two days before Bennett was due to be sworn into his post, he was arrested on charges relating to an alleged plot to topple Mugabe that had previously been discredited in court.

He has still not been sworn in.

In 2001, Bennett was violently forced off his farm.

In 2004, while an MP, he was jailed for eight months for pushing Mugabe’s justice minister.

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