MDC-M concerned at new Bennett prosecution

bennett_roy7The MDC formation under the leadership of Professor Arthur Mutambara is deeply concerned by the new prosecution of Senator Roy Bennett (Pictured) of the MDC (T), commenced with the service of a summons on him on the 30th March 2010, on allegations that he hoarded maize 9 years ago.

Section 18(2) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe states that “If any person is charged with a criminal offence, then, unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time”. The intent behind this provision is to respect the principle that justice delayed is justice denied. In other words it is a fundamental breach of a person’s human rights if prosecutions are not brought expeditiously against a person accused of crime. If there is a delay a person accused of a crime may not, for example, be able to call witnesses in his defence. The public interest also demands that crimes be responded to quickly.

This provision is of course no bar to the police instituting proceedings against a criminal who committed an offence a long time ago and whose involvement in a crime is only recently established. Furthermore it is no bar to a prosecution being brought when a crime is only recently discovered, even though it may have happened a long time ago – such as the discovery of a fraud. However in the instant case it is hard to conceive how this crime could have only recently been discovered or Senator Bennett’s involvement only recently established. If the press reports are accurate he is charged with hoarding maize at his farm some 9 years ago. It is common cause that Senator Bennett was evicted from his farm at least 7 years ago by state agents who must have discovered the hoard then, if there was in fact a hoard.

It would be physically impossible for it to be discovered now as the maize would have rotted years ago. In any event if he was “hoarding” there must have been a large quantity of maize which could not have been hidden easily, only to be discovered recently. Likewise it is difficult to conceive how Senator Bennett’s alleged involvement in hoarding could have only been established recently. He has owned the farm in question for some 20 years and he is a public figure well known to the police in the area. In other words if the “hoard’ was discovered years ago one questions why it is only now that the link has been made to Senator Bennett.

In short it is not open to the police to bring charges now when they should have been brought years ago when the crime was allegedly discovered. The police cannot keep charges locked away in a drawer to be brought out at an “appropriate” moment. If a crime has been committed by a person known to the police then charges should be brought immediately against that person. Accordingly the prosecution of Senator Bennett at this late stage appears to be a clear breach of section 18 of the Constitution. The Attorney General has a duty to explain to the public why it is that this prosecution was not brought earlier. If he cannot do so then the public will assume that there has in fact been a breach of section 18 and a denial of a fundamental right to Senator Bennett.

There is, as well, a political dimension to this issue. The Preamble to the Global Political Agreement signed by the three parties to it in September 2008 dedicates all to “putting an end to the polarisation, divisions, conflict and intolerance that has characterised Zimbabwean politics”. Article 11.1 states that “it is the duty of all political parties and individuals to respect the constitution and to adhere to the principles of the rule of law”. In the last few years numerous MDC activists have been murdered, tortured and disappeared and not a single prosecution has been brought. In many of the cases the perpetrators of these serious crimes are known and have been reported to the authorities. Despite this not a single prosecution has been instituted. In this context this new prosecution is a direct breach of both the letter and spirit of the GPA. The rule of law demands that there should be consistency in prosecutions. One cannot turn a blind eye to serious crimes committed by members of one political party and then proceed with the utmost vigour to prosecute a member of another party for a petty crime which is alleged to have been committed 9 years ago.

In conclusion this new prosecution of Senator Bennett would appear to be unconstitutional and in any event is a serious breach of the GPA. It is tantamount to persecution and we call upon the Attorney General to immediately withdraw the charges in the national interest. We cannot afford as a Nation to allow individuals bent on derailing the GPA get away with their heinous intent.

Senator David Coltart

Secretary for Legal Affairs


Post published in: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *