30 April 2002

Court postpones Tsvangirai treason trial

Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and two senior officials in his party briefly appeared in court on Tuesday on treason charges, but the case was remanded to May 31. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader and two lawmakers, Welshman Ncube and Renson Gasela, appeared before a magistrate's court in the capital in connection with an alleged plot to assassinate President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai has rejected the allegations, saying he was set up by government agents in a bid to sideline him ahead of a controversial presidential election held in March. The lawyer for the three men, Innocent Chagonda, told the court on Tuesday that if the state fails to fix a date for a trial by the next hearing, he will seek to have his clients taken off remand. The state would then "have to proceed by way of summons", Chagonda said.

Magistrate Peter Mufunda relaxed the conditions on which Tsvangirai and his fellow defendants were required to report to police, from once a week to once every fortnight. The charges, formally laid last month, carry the death penalty on conviction. They arose from a videotape aired by an Australian television station on February 13, purporting to show Tsvangirai discussing a plot to "eliminate" Mugabe with an Israeli former intelligence agent, Ari Ben Menashe, and his business associates in Canada. The public prosecutor, Stephen Musona, said the state was "doing its best to have a trial date even before the next remand date".

Four other MDC officials have been implicated in the alleged plot to kill Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and won the March presidential poll amid opposition allegations of widespread fraud and political violence. A Commonwealth team found that the election was not free and fair and the international body has suspended Zimbabwe, but the government says it is being targeted by foreign governments, particularly that of former colonial power Britain, opposed to its land redistribution programme. Western countries have criticised the treason charges, saying they were a form of political retribution. But the government has denied the accusations saying political retribution is not settled in the courts of law. The MDC has since its inception in 1999 posed the greatest challenge to Mugabe's rule in 22 years in power. (ZWNews / News24, SA)

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