MINISTER DERMOT AHERN WELCOMES RELEASE OF OPPOSITION POLITICIAN IN ZIMBABWE
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D., has welcomed the release from prison earlier today in Zimbabwe of Mr. Roy Bennett, the former Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP, who was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment last October for pushing the Zimbabwean Minister for Justice during a parliamentary debate.
"I am very glad that Mr. Bennett has now been released from his eight-month ordeal. Both the nature of his sentencing and the deplorable conditions to which he was subject while in prison had given rise to great concerns on the part of many people, including here in Ireland, for the welfare of Mr. Bennett and his family. I am delighted that Mr. Bennett is now able to be reunited with his family and friends", stated the Minister.
While welcoming his release, the Minister also noted that Mr. Bennett's description of the ill-treatment and beatings to which he and other inmates were subjected in prison highlights once again the need for democratic reforms and improved respect for human rights in Zimbabwe.
"The Zimbabwean government still have failed to demonstrate that they are genuinely interested in improving the situation as regards respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe", the Minister said. "While Mr. Bennett's release is a positive development, much more remains to be done by the Mugabe government to respond to the serious international concerns which now exist concerning human rights in Zimbabwe. I would urge the Zimbabwean government to begin by calling off its current Operation Restore Order which has only succeeded in leaving over a quarter of a million people homeless and worsening the already serious humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe", concluded the Minister.
Note for Editors:
Roy Bennett, who is a member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party in Zimbabwe and was formerly a MP in the Zimbabwean parliament until March this year, was sentenced by a government-dominated parliamentary committee in October 2004 to twelve months imprisonment, for pushing the Zimbabwean Justice Minister during a parliamentary debate early last year. Such an offence would have been expected to attract a fine, if heard in a civil court. Although a sitting MP when imprisoned, Mr. Bennett lost his parliamentary seat at the general election in Zimbabwe last March, when he was refused permission to stand and his wife, who stood on his behalf, was defeated by the government candidate.
Mr. Bennett's case and the treatment to which he was subjected while in prison attracted considerable international attention, including in Ireland where the case was discussed in both Dáil and Seanad Éireann. A Motion expressing concern at Mr. Bennett's treatment was adopted unanimously by the Dáil on 24 March. The Government has been active in highlighting Mr. Bennett's case, including at EU level and in contacts with countries neighbouring Zimbabwe. It made direct representations to the Zimbabwean authorities through Ireland's non-resident Embassy to Zimbabwe.