Wednesday, December 31, 2008


A Zimbabwean judge has ruled that 16 activists accused of organising military training to topple President Robert Mugabe must remain in jail. The group includes human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who went missing for three weeks before being brought to court last week.

The police had initially denied they were holding Ms Mukoko, who was seized from her home by a group of armed men.

The abduction and arrests have raised doubts about a power-sharing deal.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a deal to join a unity government in September but this has never been implemented. He says he will pull out of the deal unless the abduction of opposition activists stops.

Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe declared: "This matter remains to be decided in the Supreme Court and the accused cannot be released." He did not rule on the charges themselves.The 16 will appear in court next Monday for a bail hearing, Reuters news agency reports.

The opposition, human rights activists and lawyers all took part in a high-profile campaign for Ms Mukoko, a former state television news-reader, to be taken to court amid fears for her safety.

Some of those detained say they have been tortured while in custody and a judge has ruled that they be allowed to see doctors of their choice. Some first went missing in October, says the AFP news agency.

Last week, a High Court judge ruled that they should be freed but the state appealed against this ruling.

Earlier this week, five more opposition activists were charged with acts of terrorism.

These allegedly included breaking into a police station and bombing the kitchen and then blowing up a nearby toilet.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change spokesman Nelson Chamisa told the BBC the charges were trumped up as an excuse to crack down on the opposition.

"You can't have a political agreement on one hand and the other you have a cat-and-mouse relationship... trumping up charges against those people you are supposed to be working with in government," he said.



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