October 29, 2004

Movement for Democratic Change MP jailed for a year

Zimbabwe's MP Roy Bennett began a year of hard labour last night after parliament had voted to jail him for shoving the Justice Minister during a debate over land seizures. Zimbabwean law empowers parliament to impose sentences of up to two years in jail. The ruling sparked outrage among lawyers and human rights groups who argued that in a normal criminal court of law, Bennett would have faced a small fine. Parliament voted 53-42 to jail Mr Bennett - one of three white Movement for Democratic Change MPs - for hitting Patrick Chinamasa during a debate in May. The incident came after a heated debate during which Mr Chinamasa described Mr Bennett's ancestors as "rapists", "murderers" and "thieves" who stole black-owned land.
His lawyer, Arnold Tsunga, said Mr Bennett started serving his sentence last night. He had been arrested at Harare airport while trying to board a plane to South Africa. The authorities accused him of trying to flee and slapped him with an extra charge of trying to obstruct the course of justice. Mr Bennett denied the charge, saying he had never contemplated fleeing but was on his way to South Africa to meet lawyers helping him recover money for coffee stolen from his farm by Mr Mugabe's supporters and supplied to a German coffee trader. (The Independent, UK)

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