Activist under lock and key at notorious prison

A Zimbabwean peace activist has been traced to a notorious maximum security prison despite a court order that she be taken to hospital, a leading human rights lawyer said.

Jestina Mukoko and nine opposition members are being held accused of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe. The plot has been widely dismissed as fabricated, and is possibly an attempt by Mugabe’s regime to find an excuse to declare a state of emergency.

Zimbabwean lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said on Friday that police told her Mukoko had been taken to Chikurubi prison outside of the capital.

Another lawyer went to the prison and confirmed she was there but had not been allowed access to her, Mtetwa said.

Mukoko had been missing for three weeks before appearing in court on Wednesday. A judge ordered that she receive medical attention for torture allegations to be investigated. Police refused to comply with the order and she went missing again on Thursday.

Mtetwa said the female activists were being held with Mukoko in the harsh conditions at the prison which has no running water. The men were being held at various police stations around Harare.

Mtetwa said the women were expected to be brought to court on Monday, but it was unclear what would happen next.

International observers and human rights groups have raised concerns about the disappearance of many opposition activists as Mugabe clamps down on growing dissent. The New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Thursday for Mukoko’s release.

Mugabe has faced growing pressure to step down. Charging Mukoko, the respected head of a group known as the Zimbabwe Peace Project, is a sign he is not prepared to yield after nearly three decades in power.

A power-sharing deal, signed in September, calls for Mugabe to remain president and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to take the new post of prime minister. The agreement has stalled over a dispute about who would control key Cabinet posts – and over charges Mugabe has stepped up harassment of dissidents.

Mugabe (84) has ruled the country since its 1980 independence from Britain and refused to leave office following disputed elections in March.

Food, medicine, fuel and cash are scarce in Zimbabwe, and critics blame Mugabe’s policies for the ruin of what had been the region’s breadbasket. A cholera epidemic has killed more than 1 100 people. – Sapa-AP

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