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Goff seeks release of Zimbabwean Opposition figure

Hon Phil Goff Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade

7 December 2004

Goff seeks release of Zimbabwean Opposition figure

Foreign Minister Phil Goff is calling on the Zimbabwe government to release Opposition MP Roy Bennett, who has been jailed for one year with hard labour for pushing a minister during parliamentary debate.

"This sentence is harsh and disproportionate. I am equally concerned by reports that Mr Bennett is being mistreated in custody," Mr Goff said.

"Under Zimbabwean law, its parliament has the right to sit as a court and impose penalties of up to two years' jail.

"However they way it has dealt with this incident raises serious concerns that the intent of the Zimbabwe government is to stifle and intimidate opposition politicians."

Mr Goff said the incident had arisen during a debate on land reform, during which Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Mr Bennett's father and grandfather were "thieves and murderers" and that his family deserved to lose their land because it was wrongfully taken from black Zimbabweans in the first place.

"At that point Mr Bennett is reported to have charged Mr Chinamasa and pushed him to the ground. The Minister was not hurt, and Mr Bennett apologised both to Mr Chinamasa and to parliament as a whole for his actions.

"While Mr Bennett's behaviour was against Parliamentary rules, his actions can be seen as the culmination of years of political persecution aimed at the Opposition MDC Party, and of Mr Bennett, his family and his employees.

"It has been reported that Mr Bennett's family and his farm managers were forcibly evicted from their land in April; that many of his employees have been killed, raped or shot, and Bennett has been assaulted three times and jailed twice. It is also alleged that despite six court orders to the contrary, his land has still not been returned.

"Mr Bennett's treatment is consistent with a pattern of activities in Zimbabwe that has seen the rule of law, democracy, human rights, and judicial and media freedoms undermined. "I have written to the Speaker of Zimbabwe's parliament, Emmerson Mnangagwa, raising New Zealand's concern and urging the Mugabe government to release Mr Bennett," Mr Goff said.

ENDS

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