Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Court Eases Tensions In Zimbabwe

A court in Zimbabwe has acquitted a senior figure in the Movement for Democratic Change of terrorism charges. Former white farmer Roy Bennett is the treasurer-general of the MDC party, which is engaged in a fractious power-sharing arrangement with the Zanu-PF party of Robert Mugabe. The charges against Mr Bennett has been one of the main sources of tension between the two sides, but a judge threw the case out yesterday saying there wasn't enough evidence.

This is an important decision, because it shows that the judiciary in Zimbabwe is independent. The charges against Mr Bennett may have been trumped up by Zanu-PF sympathisers in the police and prosecution service, but the fact the case got nowhere in the courts suggests they may think again before bringing such politically motivated cases in the future.

If the judiciary in Zimbabwe can remain independent and stable, that makes it more likely other institutions will start to display the same qualities. Many have long been in the grip of Zanu-PF, with newspaper editors, police chiefs and plenty of others too frightened for their own futures to do anything other than Mr Mugabe's bidding. This visible independence of Zimbabwe's courts is therefore not just a step forward for the country's legal system, but for its wider democracy. Little by little, Zimbabwe is recovering.

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