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Zimbabwe: court refuses to free jailed opposition MP

L- jailed opposition MP Job Sikhala   -  
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A Zimbabwean opposition lawmaker accused of inciting public violence lost a bid to have his case dismissed on Thursday, paving the way for a high-profile trial in the runup to general elections.

Job Sikhala, a 50-year-old firebrand, has been held in a maximum security prison in the capital Harare since June, when he was arrested alongside fellow members of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

More than a dozen activists have since been freed.

Sikhala argued that the state's case was weak and should be dismissed, but magistrate Marewanazvi Gofa ruled there was "overwhelming" evidence against him.

"Circumstances call for an answer from the accused person... it cannot be said that the state's evidence at this stage is unreliable," Gofa said.

"Application for discharge...is hereby dismissed," the magistrate ruled.

Sikhala's lawyer, Harrison Nkomo, told AFP the decision would be appealed.

Sikhla has been behind bars for 275 days.

He has unsuccessfully applied for release on bail for 15 times.

In a political career spanning more than two decades, Sikhala has been arrested 67 times but never convicted, according to one of his lawyers.

Charges against him are based on a video in which he allegedly demanded justice for the murder of another opposition activist whose mutilated body was found in a well.

If convicted the lawmaker will be unable to contest upcoming elections.

Zimbabwe is scheduled to hold presidential and legislative ballots. A date has yet to be set, but many speculate that it will be in early August.

Rights groups and opposition parties have complained of an escalating clampdown ahead of the vote.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa is struggling to ease entrenched poverty, end chronic power cuts and rein in inflation.

Sikhala is expected back in court on Tuesday to mount his defence.

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