Zimbabwe concedes activist was abducted

Zimbabwe state prosecutors on Thursday conceded security agents had abducted and illegally detained a leading rights activist who asked the Supreme Court to stop her prosecution on terrorism charges.

Jestina Mukoko, a prominent rights campaigner is seeking a permanent stay of her prosecution on charges of recruiting or trying to recruit people to overthrow the government. More than a dozen other opposition activists face similar charges.

The case has raised tensions in a new unity government formed by arch-foes President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and is a test of the administration’s commitment to democratic reforms demanded by Western donors.

Mukoko says she was seized at dawn in her night dress by unidentified armed men from her home on December 3 last year and tortured before being handed over to the police 19 days later.

Her lawyer Jeremy Gauntlet told a full bench of the Supreme Court on Thursday that Mukoko’s rights had been grossly violated, including by being denied medication and a lawyer, and by being kept in solitary confinement.

“The process [of her arrest] is so contaminated that you should order a stay of prosecution,” Gauntlet told the court, adding that prosecutors were solely relying on evidence extracted from Mukoko during torture to prosecute her.

The court reserved judgement on the matter indefinitely. If it rules in Mukoko’s favour it would affect the other activists who have made the same application at the Supreme Court.

State prosecutor Fatima Maxwell, in response to a question from Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku, said the state did not dispute Mukoko’s evidence and had not questioned the security agents who had abducted her.

Asked if she was conceding that Mukoko’s abduction and detention were illegal, Maxwell told the court: “Yes my Lord.”

On whether Mukoko had been tortured, Maxwell added: “The allegations as they stand and if proved are a clear violation of the three rights in the constitution.”

These are the right to liberty, protection at law and right from torture.

But Maxwell said the violations should not prevent Mukoko from being prosecuted but rather there should be a separate inquiry to investigate the allegations.

“We respectfully submit that yes the violations are serious, multiple and were protracted ...
the only meaningful redress in this case is a stay of prosecution,” Gauntlet said. - Reuters

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