Another Zim dissident arrested, tortured, lawyers say

Police have arrested and tortured another dissident critic of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe’s regime as the government escalated a clampdown against a perceived plot to stage mass demonstrations against the leader, lawyers said late on Monday.

Job Sikhala, the leader of a small offshoot of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was arrested on Friday in connection with an alleged plan to stage demonstrations like those in Egypt in a bid to overthrow the 87-year-old Mugabe, a statement from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said.

Sikhala had a dislocated pelvis following assault by police interrogators and had been denied medical treatment, the group said. He was allegedly being held in filthy and degrading conditions in a police station on Harare’s outskirts.

Observers say Mugabe and the small coterie of supporters around him have ordered a countrywide operation to squash any signs of unrest they fear could spread from the turbulence in North Africa.

The lawyers group said the charges against Sikhala had been changed from fraud to kidnapping and mobilising people for revolt, and his case was being prosecuted by a police unit that had nothing to do with ordinary criminal prosecutions.

Lawyers filed an urgent application on Monday for his release, saying there was no basis for his arrest and he was unlawfully detained.

Defied court orders
Earlier on Monday, the organisation said police had defied court orders to provide medical help to 12 activists accused of planning an uprising against Mugabe.

The dozen accused were part of a larger group of around 45 lawyers, students and trade unionists who were raided by police on February 19 during a private meeting on the situation in Egypt.

They all now stand accused of treason, which carries the death penalty. They have been in custody for 10 days, and complained of various abuses and torture. Western envoys in the country have denounced the charges as manifestly excessive.

A Harare magistrate was told last week that the 12 were lashed on the soles of their feet with broomsticks by secret police interrogators attempting to force them to admit they were plotting Mugabe’s overthrow by mass demonstrations.

He halted the hearing and ordered that they be examined and treated, and for a report to be submitted when the court reconvened on Monday.

However, the men have not been treated, beyond being given general painkillers, their lawyer Rose Hanzi said.

Lawyers are also pressing for the release of Douglas Mwonzora from two weeks in custody, a lawyer and MDC Member of Parliament who is also the co-chairperson of the national committee to draft a new constitution. He and 23 others were arrested in eastern Zimbabwe where they were holding a rally. Mwonzora had not been tortured, the group said.

Mugabe has been in power for 31 years, presiding over a country which descended into economic chaos and hyper-inflation, and widespread intimidation, brutality and killings after the presidential election of 2008. — Sapa-dpa

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