'Tortured' activists set free in Zimbabwe trial

A human rights activist and 14 others were freed on bail yesterday after Zimbabwe's President and Prime Minister forced a judge to reverse her decision to send them back to the prison where they said they had been tortured.

Catherine Chimanda, a Harare magistrate, caused outrage on Tuesday by revoking bail for Jestina Mukoko and 17 others, saying prosecutors had charged them in a terrorism case. Three other activists involved in the same case were in hospital under prison watch.

"I'm happy to be out," Ms Mukoko told reporters later. "Justice must prevail."

The terror charges they face have been widely denounced as baseless, but Ms Chimanda decreed the trial should begin on 4 July. Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister, warned President Robert Mugabe that the power-sharing pact was at risk.

Ms Mukoko testified during an earlier hearing that she had been tortured and assaulted, and the defendants had bloodied, swollen faces in court appearances late last year.