Washington, DC – The arrest today of a leading member of the new unity government in Zimbabwe who had fought for years for political reform is “shocking,” said Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“It is shocking that Robert Mugabe’s security forces would arrest a prominent member of the new unity government, just as it appeared democracy was beginning to return to Zimbabwe,” Berman said. “I urge the international community to maintain sanctions and other pressure on Mugabe and his cronies until they release Roy Bennett and become true partners in a unity government.”

“The bravery and forthrightness of Roy Bennett and his commitment to return Zimbabwe to a thriving democracy must be recognized by the international community,” Berman continued. “His arrest sends a horrible message to advocates of democracy everywhere – a message that will only be reinforced if he is not freed immediately.”

Bennett had served as treasurer of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and had been named deputy agriculture minister in the new government. He was arrested at an airport in Harare an hour before members of the new cabinet were to be sworn in.

Bennett’s land was appropriated by Mugabe’s government in 2003 along with that of other white farmers in Zimbabwe. He fled to South Africa in 2006 to escape charges of plotting to kill Mugabe, and had just returned to Zimbabwe last month.

Berman met Bennett and other MDC members in South Africa in July 2008 to assess the situation in Zimbabwe.