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Zimbabwe courts acquit Roy Bennett

Roy Bennett, the white politician who is Robert Mugabe's bete noire, was acquitted today of terrorism charges for which he faced the death penalty.

Judge Chinembiri Bhunu ruled that the state failed to prove its case and found Bennett not guilty of all charges: banditry, sabotage, terrorism and insurgency.

"Justice has been done," said his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who proved that evidence against Bennett was extracted by torture and false.

Bennett was surrounded in Harare by jubilant black supporters.

"I hope that sanity is now creeping into the system and we can now start concentrating on delivering better lives for the people of Zimbabwe," Bennett told CNN.

Bennett, 53, is the treasurer general of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and had been on trial since November, accused of plotting to violently overthrow the Mugabe government.

Bennett, a white farmer whose land was seized during Zimbabwe's controversial land reform program in 2000, has long been a thorn in the side of Mugabe's Zanu-PF party. Mugabe is infuriated that Bennett is wildly popular with black Zimbabweans. Black supporters call him "pachedu," which in the Shona language means "one of us." Bennett has been thrown in and out of jail several times.

Tsvangirai has named Bennett to be deputy minister of agriculture in the national unity government with Mugabe's party, but Mugabe has adamantly refused to swear him in. Mugabe said Bennett first needed to be cleared of all charges.

The MDC has always maintained that the case against Bennett was political and that he was being persecuted and not prosecuted. The charges against Bennett were widely discredited, especially because the same charges had been thrown out of court two years ago in the case against Giles Mutsekwa. Mutsekwa is now Zimbabwe's minister of home affairs, in charge of the police.

Now that Bennett has been acquitted, the next test is whether or not Mugabe will him into his cabinet.

"Mugabe has to swear me in now," Bennett said today. "My party has made it very clear that they expect nothing less."

Bennett said that he is relieved to be acquitted.

"It was incredibly emotional," he said. "To have this hanging over your head, knowing it could mean the death penalty, has been very hard. I've got to thank God and think that good will always triumph over evil. This experience has fortified me and made me stronger."

The MDC hailed Bennett's not guilty verdict and said it hopes that trumped up charges against 100 other members would be dropped.