Zimbabwe activist 'torture' to be investigated

A Zimbabwean human rights activist missing for three weeks was taken to court accused, according to state media, of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.

Last night, a judge ordered that Jestina Mukoko and six other activists be sent to a hospital under police guard so that allegations of torture could be investigated, a human rights lawyer said.

The lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said the seven would be taken to court again on Monday to determine the next step.

Meanwhile, another judge ordered a different group of about two dozen detainees released unconditionally.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu joined the growing international pressure on leader Mugabe to give up power. Asked during a BBC interview if Mugabe should be removed by force, Tutu said there should "certainly be the threat of it".

Mr Tutu, the retired Archbishop of Cape Town, also said he was ashamed of South Africa's handling of the Zimbabwe issue at the United Nations Security Council, where China and Russia in July vetoed a US-sponsored resolution that proposed worldwide sanctions against Mugabe and 13 officials.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki mediated the power-sharing deal between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, and South Africa reiterated this week it saw the deal as the only way forward, despite new US and British opposition to it.

"We have betrayed our legacy, how much more suffering is going to make us say, 'No, we have given Mr Mugabe enough time'," Mr Tutu told the BBC.

Ms Mukoko's court appearance came days after Mr Tsvangirai threatened to withdraw from talks on implementing the power sharing deal unless at least 42 missing activists and opposition officials were released or charged.

Ms Mukoko had been taken from her home on 3 December, the day activists held nationwide protests against the country's deepening economic and health crises, and scores of others had disappeared in recent weeks.

Charging Ms Mukoko, the respected head of a group known as the Zimbabwe Peace Project, with involvement with a plot already widely dismissed as a fabrication is a sign Mugabe is not prepared to back down.

The Herald, the state-run daily newspaper, said Ms Mukoko and the other activists with Mr Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change would be charged with attempting to recruit fighters to overthrow Mugabe. The Herald quoted police as saying the MDC was training fighters in Botswana.

Zimbabwean officials have repeatedly made such accusations, which have been denied by Botswana and the MDC.

Last week, South African president Kgalema Motlanthe dismissed the allegations, saying the main regional bloc launched an investigation when Mugabe's regime first raised them last month, but "we never believed" them.

Annah Moyo, a Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean human rights lawyer, said the charges against Ms Mukoko were "trumped up" and could be used by the Mugabe regime as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and withdraw from power sharing talks.

Mugabe's government was "desperate to do whatever it can to try to hold on to power", Ms Moyo said.

The power-sharing deal, signed in September, calls for Mugabe to remain president and Tsvangirai to take the new post of prime minister. The agreement has stalled over a dispute about who would control key Cabinet posts - and over charges that Mugabe has stepped up harassment of dissidents.

Shortly before Ms Mukoko was brought to court today, human rights lawyers said they had been visiting police stations and checking arrest records, and had managed to locate 14 activists who had disappeared in recent weeks.

The lawyers said the number of detainees may be higher than the 42 confirmed cases.

Mugabe, 84, has ruled the country since its 1980 independence from Britain and refused to leave office following disputed elections in March.

Food, medicine, fuel and cash are scarce in Zimbabwe, and critics blame Mugabe's policies for the ruin of what had been the region's breadbasket.

Mugabe has faced renewed criticism because his country's economic collapse has led to a humanitarian crisis. Millions of Zimbabweans are in need of food aid and a cholera epidemic has killed more than 1,100 people.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent