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Zimbabwe trial begins for opposition cabinet nominee

[JURIST] The trial of Zimbabwe Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] party treasurer and deputy agriculture minister-nominee Roy Bennett [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] began Monday, but was adjourned until Wednesday to allow Judge Chinembiri Bhunu to make a decision regarding the admissibility of evidence. Bennett's defense lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, asked the court to prohibit evidence obtained from the attorney general's main witness, Mike Hitschmann, alleging he was tortured by officials [MDC press release] and did not implicate Bennett during his own trial. The attorney general countered that the defense's outline breached court regulations [SW Radio Africa report]. Bhunu is expected to rule on both parties' arguments when the trial resumes on Wednesday.

Bennett's trial was delayed [JURIST report] in October to allow counsel more time to develop a defense. Bennett faces charges [CNN report] under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act [materials] for unlawfully possessing weapons and provoking others "to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage." The weapons charges involve a possible death sentence. Bennett was originally arrested on weapons charges in February, and was later released [JURIST reports] on bail in March. Bennett was then re-arrested [Reuters report] on the same charges in October, only to be released on bail again. Bennett was originally sought for questioning [JURIST report] in relation to similar allegations in 2006, but he had been seeking asylum in South Africa until recently [IOL report]. Treason charges against him were dropped [Times report] in favor of the terrorism and other charges. Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had nominated Bennett to be deputy agriculture minister.

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