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As of today, Roy Bennett is still being held in a Mutare police station on trumped up charges of treason.  Though he has been allowed access to his attorneys, he was previously denied food and remains in custody in the station, which has been surrounded by hundreds of Zimbabweans who are keeping watch to be sure police do not try to move Roy Bennett.

I have heard from several colleagues who are close to Roy and who I trust.  They have said that the best thing we can do to ensure Roy's safe release is to keep talking about this story.  Keeping international pressure on those holding Roy captive is key to keeping him safe.

How can you help, after the jump

1. Keep talking.  My friend David Shuster, of MSNBC's "1600 Pennsylvania Ave." has begun counting the days that Roy has been held captive, and will continue to do so until he is released.  This is the kind of attention we need to this story.  I still believe that Roy will only be harmed if the men holding him think we are not looking.  Please don't let Roy's story go untold and let them think we are not looking.

Roy Bennett's wife is available for interviews.  If you are with international press and would like an interview, please send your contact information to releaseroy@joetrippi.com and someone on my team will get you in touch with the right people.

You can stay up to date by checking my blog/Twitter, Sokwanele, The Zimbabwean, and the Zimbabwe Times.

2.  Donate money.  An account has been set up to help alleviate the burden of Roy's legal fees and to help those continuing to hold vigil outside the Mutare station where he is being held.

We are trying to find a solution to allow us to collect money for the South African account that has been set up.  Paypal and most other online gateways can take days to set up be verified, please email releaseroy@joetrippi.com if you know how we could set this up quickly and someone on my team will get back in touch with you.

Here is the wire information:

[Bank info redacted--please email us if you think you can help.]

Please email releaseroy@joetrippi.com if you know how we could set this up quickly and someone on my team will get back in touch with you.

--

This is a release I received from a colleague on the ground, close to the situation.  These are some of the most courageous people I've met in my career, please keep them in your thoughts as Roy's ordeal continues.

Roy Bennett, treasurer for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in Zimbabwe and deputy agriculture minister designate, was yesterday abducted by members of the notorious Law and Order unit as he was leaving the country on a flight to South Africa.

Bennett had entered Zimbabwe on the morning of 11 February to attend the inauguration of MDC President Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister. This would mark the start of the unity government with Zanu-PF President Robert Mugabe.

The aeroplane Bennett was on was already taxing down the runway at the Prince Charles airport outside Harare but was stopped shortly after a Mercedes Benz had pulled up at the control tower and ordered that the plane be turned around. Bennett had already cleared customs and the aeroplane had been given clearance to take-off. Under international aviation law it is illegal to stop a plane, without an injunction, that has been given clearance.

Bennett was “manhandled” off the plane and put into a white Hilux pick-up truck. The Law and Order officials did not have an arrest warrant and verbally abused Bennett’s colleagues when they demanded the warrant.

Bennett was transported to Mutare Central Police Station where he was charged with treason related to a 2006 arrest warrant put out by Mugabe’s security establishment after they alleged that Bennett was plotting to kill the president.

Bennett was forced to skip the country as a result of this warrant and has been living in South Africa since under self-imposed exile.  

Bennett is a bugbear to Zanu-PF because he is the MDC’s link to the international donor community. The fact that he was also recently appointed deputy agricultural minister designate has created nervousness among Zanu-PF veterans who have benefited from the government's controversial land invasions. When Bennett was in Zimbabwe two weeks ago for the national council debate on joining the government of national unity he visited his old farm, Charleswood, which "generated panic and pandemonium of the farm," according to a source. Zanu-PF’s obsession with Bennett is so heightened that there was recently an email circulated in Zimbabwe, it is thought by the Central Intelligence Organisation, claiming that Bennett was responsible for dispensing the cholera germ into the central Harare water supply.

Bennett's arrest has been driven by the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which is unhappy with the unity deal. It is believed that the head of JOC and newly sworn in Minister of Defence Emmerson Mnangagwa ordered the arrest. Mnangagwa's main supporters in Bennett’s arrest are head of police Augustine Chihuri, head of the defence force Constantine Chiwenga, and head of the prison service Paradzai Zimondi.

Most of the JOC generals refused to attend the swearing in ceremony of the new unity cabinet yesterday, despite repeated requests from that they attend.

The arrest of Bennett has highlighted a split in the Zanu-PF leadership as two centres of power – one that is pro-unity government and the other that is anti-unity government – have become defined. Mugabe is supportive of the unity government, while Mnangagwa wants to scupper the deal.  

Zanu-PF is likely to use Bennett’s arrest to weaken the MDC’s hand in the unity government – including a trade off of blanket amnesty for the security chiefs who have committed most the human rights violations associated with the recent elections. Zanu-PF could also demand that Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono retain his position, according to a source close to the situation.

Mutare prison is notorious for its appalling conditions. A large group of protestors have gathered around the prison and have vowed to keep a vigil until Bennett is released.  

Stay tuned to my blog and Twitter feed for more updates.

Originally posted to Joe Trippi on Sat Feb 14, 2009 at 11:24 AM PST.

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