Zimbabwe court upholds acquittal of Tsvangirai ally

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 9:48 AM
Zimbabwe court upholds acquittal of Tsvangirai ally

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's Supreme Court has upheld the acquittal of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's ally Roy Bennett on terrorism charges but he now faces new allegations of contempt of court, his lawyer said Friday.

The decision comes as members of Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) say they are increasingly being targeted by rival and governing partner, President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF, further straining their uneasy power-sharing arrangement.

Thursday, police arrested an MDC minister on suspected fraud charges, while the Supreme Court nullified the election of the speaker of parliament, a Tsvangirai ally, after a court challenge from a senior ZANU-PF member.

Bennett, a white former farmer and senior MDC member, was arrested in February 2009 and charged with illegal possession of firearms for purposes of committing acts of terrorism, banditry and insurgency. He could have faced the death penalty if found guilty.

The High Court last May ruled that state prosecutors had failed to prove the case against Bennett but the state appealed.

"The Supreme Court ruled that there was no chance of the state appeal succeeding. But they have also brought up other allegations of contempt of court against him," his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told Reuters.

Bennett, who is believed to be in South Africa, faces a fine or six month jail term if convicted on the contempt charges.

Tsvangirai has accused Mugabe's ZANU-PF of cranking up tensions as the party seeks elections this year, which the MDC has warned could lead to bloodshed and economic chaos.

(Reporting By Alfonce Mbizwo; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Elizabeth Fullerton)