Lawyers charge Mugabe's government with contempt

Lawyers for detained rights activists called on Monday for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government to be charged with contempt, as the country’s cholera death toll rose above 1 500.

The defence team for 18 activists was in court either to press for transfer to hospital in line with a Zimbabwe High Court order, or to fight charges of plotting to overthrow the 84-year-old ruler for nearly three decades.

“The state is approaching this court with dirty hands. The state did not comply with the order of Justice Yunus Omerjee,” one of the lawyers, Charlel Kwaramba, told a magistrates’ court.

“On that basis alone, the state should be held in contempt of the High Court,” he said.

The defendants, Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project and eight associates, stand accused of recruiting or inciting people to undergo military training to fight Mugabe’s government.

A two-year-old boy also detained in prison was present in court but not charged.

Nine others, including opposition party members, were additionally brought from police custody. Seven were charged with bombing and acts of banditry, with the other two accused of complicity.

Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe—who ordered that all the accused be examined by doctors of their choice while in detention—postponed the hearings until Wednesday, when he will rule on whether they should
proceed to trial.

He will also hear arguments about whether Mukoko and activists in her group plotted against Mugabe’s regime.

The government has appealed against last Wednesday’s High Court ruling. Defence lawyers had earlier said the activists may have been tortured in custody.

In his preliminary remarks, Kwaramba said of the first nine: “We are contesting the accused being formally remanded. The actual criminals are their abductors.”
Mukoko’s peace group recorded cases of alleged violence against supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in this year’s contested elections.

Mukoko was seized from her home on December 3 by armed men who identified themselves as police officers.

Two members of her staff were taken away from their office days later. They have been accused together with 28 members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party of recruiting anti-government plotters.

The MDC has insisted that the abductions and detention of its supporters would further hamper stalled talks with the ruling party on forming a unity government.

“There is also the issue of abductions, which are taking place against the spirit of the memorandum of understanding and the global political agreement, and the use of hate language in the state media,” said MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.

“This persecution on trumped-up charges is simply going to jeopardise the process and spirit of a negotiated settlement which is already destabilised,” Chamisa said.

Cholera epidemic
On a day which only served to underline the depth of the crisis engulfing Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, new UN figures showed that its cholera epidemic has claimed 1 564 lives since August.

The number of cases also shot up to 29 131 from 23 712, according to the World Health Organisation.

Harare remains the worst-hit region, with 330 deaths and 9 916 suspected cases.

In recognition of the scale of its neighbour’s trauma, South Africa on Monday reversed a block on aid to Zimbabwe, which is also suffering from the world’s highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231-million percent in July.

“We have now reviewed our earlier decision in view of the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in that country. We have now started sending the aid to Zimbabwe” through the Southern African Development Community (SADC), presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe told AFP.

Mugabe and his rivals from the MDC signed the power-sharing deal in September in Harare, but implementation has proved impossible. - AFP

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