UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ZIMBABWE: Suspected soldiers of fortune charged under security law
JOHANNESBURG, 17 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - An additional charge under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) was brought on Wednesday against the suspected mercenaries held by the Zimbabwean authorities since last week.
The men were arrested on board a plane that landed at the Harare International airport and charged with conspiring to murder Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and his bodyguard as part of an alleged coup attempt.
Attorney-General Bharat Patel told IRIN that 67 of the 70 men held were charged under POSA for attempting to acquire weaponry such as rocket launchers and grenades, the licensing of which is not covered by Zimbabwe's Firearms Act.
The men have already been charged with violating the Firearms Act and the Immigration Act, both carrying minimal sentences.
Defence counsel Jonathan Samkange told IRIN the men were charged with conspiring to murder Mbasogo and his bodyguard late on Tuesday. "Conspiring to murder falls under the ambit of common law, so I presume they (the authorities) will be seeking to try the men under that," he said. The penalty for attempted murder in Zimbabwe is an unspecified amount of time in prison.
POSA carries a minimum sentence of 10 years but "they were probably attempting to charge them with a crime carrying a more severe penalty", Samkange explained. The weaponry listed under the charge related to POSA was identical to that under the violation of the Firearms Act.
Both Patel and Samkange said the 70 men, including three flight crew, were likely to make their court appearance this week.
In February this year presidential powers were used to amend the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which now enables the Zimbabwean police to detain people for up to a week.
The police can also hold suspects for a further 21 days if prima facie evidence of their involvement in a crime is produced.
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