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14 Jan 2009 11:19
Zimbabwe’s Attorney General branded detained human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko a threat to society and said he would oppose her release, it was reported on Wednesday.
Mukoko has been charged with attempting to topple Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe alongside two other activists and dozens of opposition members in cases that have deepened Zimbabwe’s political deadlock.
Attorney General Johannes Tomana, who was appointed by Mugabe last month, told the state-owned Herald newspaper that there was enough evidence to suggest Mukoko committed a crime and should not be released.
“Any Attorney General in the world would do what I am doing given a case like the one involving Mukoko,” Tomana said. “Evidence gathered proves that she is a threat to society and she should not be released now.”
Mukoko and other activists accuse state security agents of torturing them to extract confessions and deny the charges against them.
The government says it does not use torture.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) accuses Mugabe of using the arrests to exert pressure to force it into joining a unity government from a position of weakness and without the posts it seeks.
MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai has said the cases could wreck his September power-sharing agreement with Mugabe, seen as a chance to rescue the once relatively prosperous country.
Tomana, who sits in Cabinet as a non-voting member, but is meant to prosecute cases independent from government influence, denied that the case against Mukoko was political.
The ruling party lost its parliamentary majority to the MDC in March last year, the first time since independence in 1980. But the Herald said the opposition might lose its slim majority after one of its legislators was convicted for forgery.
Legislator Lynette Karenyi was convicted of forging the signatures to secure nomination for the vote.
She denies the charges but it is not clear whether she is appealing against the conviction.
Cholera cases surge above 40 000
Meanwhile Zimbabwe’s health care system continues to spiral into crisis, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday reporting that the country’s cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 2 000 people, has claimed 81 more lives.
The total number of cases now stands at 40 448, the WHO said.
The death toll has now reached 2 106 since August while 1 642 new cases were added on in a single day, it said.
WHO spokesperson Paul Garwood said: “The epidemic is still not under control,” adding that the rainy season was aggravating the contagion since the disease is transmitted by contaminated water.
Harare remains the worst-hit region, with 238 deaths and 126 new cases recorded, bringing the total number of patients to 10 939.
The Beitbridge area, which borders South Africa, has the second largest number of diagnosed cases with some 4 282 people infected, including seven new cases recorded in the latest report.
News of the latest cholera toll comes amid calls made on Tuesday for Zimbabwe’s health care system to be placed under international receivership.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) CEO Frank Donaghue said in Johannesburg: “We believe an emergency health system needs to be put in place ... we recommend the entire health system be handed over to world receivership.”
Donaghue said public hospitals were closed because they did not have water or drugs. Health care workers could not get to work because they could not afford transport, and Zimbabweans seeking treatment had little access to the hospitals because they too had no transport money.
“So we would hold that the United Nations now has the power to step in and set in some type of system to take over the health system of Zimbabwe,” he added.
Crimes against humanity
PHR also said on Tuesday that Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe should be charged with crimes against humanity over rights abuses and the collapse of the nation’s health system.
“The UN Security Council ... should enact a resolution referring the crisis in Zimbabwe to the International Criminal Court for investigation and to begin the process of compiling documentary and other evidence that would support the charge of crimes against humanity,” it added.
PHR’s four-member team, which included two physicians, met more than 90 people, including lawmakers, government officials, health workers, farmers and others in Zimbabwe during their December 13 to 20 mission.
Richard Goldstein, former chief prosecutor at the UN International Criminal Court and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights chief Mary Robinson said in a preface to the report that the findings added to the evidence against Mugabe.
“These findings add to the growing evidence that Robert Mugabe and his regime may well be guilty of crimes against humanity,” they said in the preface, also signed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Zimbabweans suffer the lowest life expectancy in the world, at 36 years, while more than one in every 100 women die during or shortly after pregnancy, the report said.
Deepening Zimbabwe’s health crisis is an ongoing strike launched last year by doctors at public hospitals.
The doctors have vowed to keep striking until a demand for better pay is met, the state-run Herald newspaper reported.
They turned down a government offer of a monthly salary of between $150 and $850, as junior doctors had demanded $2 600 a month while specialists wanted $4 000.—Sapa-AFP, Reuters
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