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03 Jan 2009 08:38
A judge ruled on Friday that a respected human rights campaigner and 31 other activists accused of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe should remain in custody over the weekend.
Opposition leaders say the detention of Zimbabwe Peace Project leader Jestina Mukoko is part of Mugabe’s clampdown on the country’s pro-democracy movement.
High Court Judge Alphias Chitakunye rejected an application for the activists’ immediate release and said they should stay in custody until they appear in the magistrate’s court on Monday.
“If the court doesn’t realise people’s rights to be protected, there is a breakdown of law and order,” said defence attorney Beatrice Mtetwa.
The defence argued that police have defied at least two court orders to free the activists and have ignored a magistrate’s ruling that they be allowed visits from private doctors after appearing in court on Monday with swollen and bloodied faces.
Mukoko was abducted from her home in early December. For weeks police denied any knowledge of her whereabouts but state attorneys this week conceded that security officials were responsible.
Mugabe, who has been in power since the country’s 1980 independence, reached a power-sharing agreement with the opposition in September following a disputed presidential election.
But the deal has been deadlocked over how to divide Cabinet posts, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has warned he will pull out of the government if Mukoko and the other detainees are not released.
The opposition wants to control the Home Affairs Ministry, and thus be in charge of the police, saying this is the only way of curbing the violence and intimidation against its supporters.
Mugabe says he will share control of the ministry with the opposition, but not give it up entirely.
In addition to the political paralysis, Zimbabwe is gripped by an economic crisis, with galloping hyperinflation, mass unemployment and hunger.
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