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Zimbabwe: Fears for safety increase for Jestina Mukoko and other activists

Amnesty International calls for immediate and unconditional release of Mukoko and other 30 activists

Amnesty International supporters have urgently appealed to the authorities in Zimbabwe for the immediate and unconditional release of prominent human rights defender Jestina Mukoko and her colleague Broderick Takawira, and for 30 or so other activists - human rights and political – who were abducted between October and December 2008 to be either charged or immediately and unconditionally released.

Jestina Mukoko is director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) – one of the country’s leading organisations which monitors and documents human rights violations. She is currently being held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare after being left there on 23 December by her abductors, who seized her from her home earlier in the month.

Police had previously denied arresting her and had told the High Court in Harare that they were treating the case as a kidnapping.

Meanwhile, Broderick Takawira, a provincial coordinator of the ZPP was abducted on 8 December 2008. Both Jestina and Broderick are considered to be prisoners of conscience – being held in violation of their rights to freedom of expression and association.

The 30 or so other activists who were detained between October and December 2008 are human rights activists and Movement for Democratic Change political activists. They are currently being held at various detention facilities across Harare.

An Amnesty International spokesperson said:

“This is a harrowing ordeal for Jestina, Broderick and the political activists, which needs to be quickly resolved.

“These men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights are still being unlawfully detained as police authorities ignore a high court order to release them.

“Given that allegations of torture have been made, then at the very least these men and Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights should be granted access to a hospital in order to receive a full and thorough medical examination.

According to the state-controlled Herald newspaper, Jestina Mukoko and Broderick Takawira, together with eight of the detained MDC activists, are to be charged with “recruiting or attempting to recruit people for the purposes of undergoing military training to overthrow the Government”. It is not clear whether they have now been formally charged.

The accusations against the activists are widely believed to be fabricated.

The abduction, unlawful arrest and detention of the human rights workers and MDC activists is consistent with a pattern of human rights violations documented by Amnesty International since March 2007 when 32 MDC activists were arrested and charged with bombing police stations. The activists were allegedly tortured and denied access to their lawyers. The charges against the MDC activists were later dropped.

The practice of unlawful arrest and detention is one of the established tactics employed by the Zimbabwean authorities to intimidate and harass critics.

Amnesty International continued:

“Amnesty International considers Jestina and Broderick to be prisoners of conscience and is calling for an immediate and unconditional release.

“We will also continue to call on the country’s authorities to either formally charge the political activists or to release them as well.

“The Zimbabwe authorities must also guarantee that no-one within their custody will be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment in accordance with internationally agreed standards.

Senior officials must quickly conduct a thorough investigation into allegations of unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and reported torture of all the detainees immediately.

“This situation not be allowed to continue a moment longer.”

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