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Official who freed Zimbabwe opposition politician arrested

  • Story Highlights
  • Magistrate who released a senior opposition politician arrested
  • High Court had ordered politican released, but decision was suspended
  • Roy Bennett's imprisonment a crack in coalition of opposition and Robert Mugabe
  • In separate decision, High Court ordered release of three human rights activists
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HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) -- Zimbabwe police arrested on Friday a magistrate who ordered the release of a senior opposition politician granted bail by the country's High Court, a lawyer said.

A protester in Mutare, Zimbabwe, holds a sign calling for the release of opposition MDC politician Roy Bennett.

A Zimbabwean policeman patrols outside the entrance of Mutare Magistrates court.

The order to release the politician had been suspended when state lawyers appealed the HIgh Court decision.

Trust Maanda, a lawyer in Mutare city about 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Harare, told CNN by phone that magistrate Livingstone Chipadze had been arrested.

"He is in police custody. The police are saying he ordered the release of Roy Bennett in compliance with the High Court ruling," said Maanda.

Bennett is the choice of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for deputy agriculture minister under the power-sharing government formed last month.

On Wednesday, Chipadze ordered Bennett be released from a prison in Mutare as had been ruled by the High Court last week.

However, that order, which required Bennett to post $2,000 as bail, was suspended after the state filed an appeal with Zimbabwe's Supreme Court.

"I can confirm the arrest, but I will be in position to tell you the charge he will face later," said a police official in Mutare over the phone.

"He is likely to go to court on Saturday or Monday. But most magistrates here [in Mutare] have gone on strike over his arrest."

Chipadze joins Bennett in prison in Mutare. Bennett was arrested on February 13 and is facing charges of possessing arms for the purposes of banditry, terrorism and sabotage.

The continued detention of Bennett, an ally of MDC leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, is seen by many as a crack in the foundation of the coalition Tsvangirai formed with President Robert Mugabe.

Meanwhile, a Zimbabwe High Court judge Friday ordered the immediate release of three human rights activists in state "safe custody" to testify against human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who is facing charges of plotting to topple Mugabe.

Opposition MDC activists Fannie Tembo, Lloyd Tarumbwa and Terry Musona have been missing since October last year after they were abducted from their homes under the cover of darkness.

Lawyers Chris Mhike and Innocent Chagonda took the state to the High Court in an attempt to win the release the trio.

But the state represented by Nelson Mutsonziwa had opposed the application, saying the three would be state witnesses when the trial of Mukoko starts.

The MDC lawyers then successfully argued that the three were bread winners for their families and the state had not provided their families with assistance while they are in custody.

Delivering the judgment, Justice Ben Hlatswayo said, "I order the immediate release of Fannie Tembo, Lloyd Tarumbwa and Terry Musona from police custody or the custody of any other state agent. This order stands enforceable notwithstanding the noting or filing of an appeal."

Relatives of the three who were milling around the High Court could not hide their joy after Mhike told them of Hlatswayo's ruling.

All About Morgan TsvangiraiRobert MugabeZimbabweZimbabwe High Court

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