/ 2 October 2009

Zim activists sue state for $500m

A prominent Zimbabwean human rights activist and eight others are suing the government for $500-million after terror charges against them were dropped because they had been beaten and tortured, their lawyer said.

Harrison Nkomo, a lawyer for activist Jestina Mukoko, said on Thursday that the national police commissioner, intelligence minister and several police officers were among those being sued for the abduction, wrongful arrest and torture of Mukoko and the others.

Mukoko is seeking $250-million of that settlement, he said, adding that the rest would be split between the other activists.

The country’s Supreme Court granted the activists a permanent stay of prosecution on Monday because their constitutional rights had been violated.

Mukoko testified earlier this year that she had been tortured and assaulted in jail. The defendants appeared with bloodied, swollen faces during court appearances late last year.

”It is their prerogative to pursue any legal recourse with regard to any perceived violence they allege may have happened,” said police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena. ”The police will also advance and argument why they can’t be held liable for anything done to Jestina and the others.”

Thursday’s announcement was made at a press conference hosted by the group Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights. Mukoko attended the conference but did not speak.

The organisation’s director Irene Petras also called for Attorney-General Johannes Tomana to resign over his ”unethical and partisan” conduct during the activists’ trial.

Tomana dismissed the call and told the Associated Press that his officials had been professional.

Accusations that Mukoko and the others had been plotting to overthrow Mugabe had been widely denounced as trumped up and politically motivated.

Mukoko was taken from her home in early December and held at an undisclosed location until being jailed December 23. She was freed on bail in March, only to have a Harare magistrate revoke that in May, prompting international criticism.

Some analysts saw the decision to drop charges as a new willingness by judges loyal to President Robert Mugabe to meet demands for reforms.

Mugabe formed a unity government with former opposition leader Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in February.

Tsvangirai said the case undermined the coalition and called for the dropping of charges against all activists and for attacks against opposition members to be stopped.

Petras said she remained concerned about seven activists from Tsvangirai’s party whose whereabouts are unknown.

Hundreds of pro-democracy activists went missing in the wake of Zimbabwe’s disputed elections in March 2008. — Sapa-AP