|VOICE OF AMERICA|
SLUG: 2-315442 Zimbabwe Mercenaries (L-O)
BYLINE= PETA THORNYCROFT
INTRO: The Zimbabwe government has issued a document allowing extradition to Equatorial Guinea. The move is apparently related to the detention in Zimbabwe of 70 men, mostly South Africans, for allegedly plotting a coup d'etat in Equatorial Guinea. Peta Thornycroft reports from Harare.
TEXT: Zimbabwean and South African lawyers appearing for the 70 men did not know when they went to the makeshift court in the maximum security prison that their clients could be extradited to Equatorial Guinea. They learned about the change in the law from reporters.
Equatorial Guinea was added to the list of nations to which Zimbabwe can extradite people through a government decision last Friday, but the change was not published until late Tuesday. It is extremely rare for Zimbabwe to extradite suspects to other countries.
The executive director for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Arnold Tsunga, says the case against the 70 men in Zimbabwe is weak. He says it makes sense that Zimbabwe would want to extradite the men to Equatorial Guinea.
But a South African lawyer representing the men, Alwyn Griebenow, says he was shocked to find out that his clients could be extradited to Equatorial Guinea before or after the completion of their trial.
According to a report in the privately owned Independent newspaper on Friday, Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said Zimbabwe had refused a request from Equatorial Guinea to extradite the men before they are tried.
The defense team told the court on Tuesday that four of the detained men were tortured into saying they were on their way to commit a coup d'etat in Equatorial Guinea.
The men say they were hired to guard a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were arrested at the Harare International Airport on March 7, where they had stopped to pick up weapons.
The five charges against them mostly involve purchasing weapons without a license, and breaking immigration laws. The possible sentences for those charges are minimal.
There is one weapons charge under security legislation that carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. But legal experts say the charge would be hard to prove because the men had not taken delivery of the weapons when they were arrested.
The men are in the process of asking the court for all charges against them to be dropped for lack of evidence. (SIGNED)
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