[R-G] Tsvangirai acquitted of treason in Zimbabwe
mstainsby at resist.ca
Sat Oct 16 14:25:12 MDT 2004
Tsvangirai acquitted of treason in Zimbabwe
By STEPHANIE NOLEN
Saturday, October 16, 2004 - Page A19
PRETORIA -- Zimbabwe's High Court acquitted Morgan Tsvangirai of treason
charges yesterday, saying the state had not proved that the opposition
leader plotted with a Montreal businessman to overthrow President Robert
The verdict sent jubilant supporters of Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for
Democratic Change into the streets of Zimbabwe's cities, but the
demonstrations were soon harshly suppressed by police.
"I always expected the worst," Mr. Tsvangirai, 52, said in a statement
shortly after his noon-hour acquittal. "As it turned out, justice has
taken its course. I have been vindicated. . . .The judgment confirms that
the MDC is an idea that cannot be wished away."
Had he been convicted, he would have faced the death penalty.
Mr. Tsvangirai was charged with treason two weeks before he ran against
Mr. Mugabe in the 2002 presidential election.
Mr. Mugabe, 80, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, won that
vote, but international observers said the election was rigged and MDC
supporters were beaten, intimidated and prevented in droves from voting.
The treason charges stemmed from a meeting Mr. Tsvangirai held in December
of 2001 with Ari Ben Menashe, an Israeli onetime arms dealer turned
Montreal "political consultant," where, the state said, the MDC leader
asked for help in assassinating Mr. Mugabe.
During the trial, the state withdrew that allegation but said the grainy
videotape of the meeting showed Mr. Tsvangirai seeking help to overthrow
During the yearlong trial, Mr. Tsvangirai's defence team, headed by George
Bivos (who defended Nelson Mandela at his first trial in 1963 and 1964),
argued that the tape was a ploy to frame him.
Mr. Bivos argued that Mr. Tsvangirai was merely seeking a way to raise
funds and supporters in North America before the election, and that Mr.
Ben Menashe was in the pay of Zimbabwe's intelligence service when the
meeting took place.
The MDC has maintained that the case should not have gone to court and was
entirely a political effort to discredit Mr. Tsvangirai.
Many in Zimbabwe nonetheless feared he would be convicted, because Mr.
Mugabe has moved in the past four years to crush anyone who opposes him,
and has packed the judiciary with his supporters.
Senior High Court Judge Paddington Garwe said in his judgment that Mr. Ben
Menashe, the prosecution's key witness, was not credible, that his
testimony had to be treated with "caution" and that some statements were
Mr. Ben Menashe had testified that the MDC signed a $500,000 (U.S.)
contract with his firm and promised $10-million to the head of Zimbabwe's
air force to stage a coup after Mr. Mugabe's assassination.
Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of the party, told The Globe and Mail
from Harare that, as a lawyer evaluating the evidence, he had remained
optimistic Mr. Tsvangirai would be acquitted, but that the verdict was
nonetheless a huge relief.
"People should never underestimate the pressures that arise out of having
the leader of an opposition movement facing treason charges," he said.
"There is no doubt Mugabe wanted a conviction, no doubt they went to great
lengths to deceive and paid Ben Menashe large sums of money. And they have
a lot of egg on their face today and a lot of embarrassment because of the
way judgment went."
Mr. Ncube was originally charged with treason alongside Mr. Tsvangirai,
and with the MDC's shadow agriculture minister, Renson Gasela, but charges
against them were dropped at the outset of the trial.
"This is a very good day for me and for a lot for Zimbabweans," said
Michael Majuru, a former judge in Zimbabwe's administrative court who was
driven into exile in South Africa 11 months ago when he refused to obey
the orders of the Justice Minister on cases involving the opposition.
He sat nervously next to the phone yesterday morning, waiting for a call
from home with news of the verdict. "It was not Tsvangirai in the dock
alone, the whole justice system was in the dock with him: Is the judiciary
committed to the rule of law, committed to democracy?"
Mr. Tsvangirai is not, however, in the clear yet. He faces a further set
of treason charges, these in relation to a mass action organized by the
MDC last year.
The five-day peaceful stay-away was intended to put pressure on Mr.
Mugabe's Zanu-PF party to negotiate with the MDC, but police charged Mr.
Tsvangirai with "trying to overthrow the state by unconstitutional means."
Zimbabwe's constitution allows peaceful public protest, but police said
the demonstrations violated the new Public Order and Security Act.
In the contradiction lies the hope.
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