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Human Rights Lawyers Fight to Get Imprisoned Zimbabwean Activists Released

Several court actions are in process in Harare to try and free 17 previously abducted activists still in prison, despite a High Court order to release them. Human rights lawyers believe more activists, mostly from the Movement for Democratic Change party, who have been missing for weeks are being detained at unknown locations.

Zimbabwe's small community of human rights lawyers are extremely busy petitioning the High Court to secure the release of their clients who were abducted by state security agents in the last few weeks.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights director Irene Petras said Wednesday that there are 17 activists who have been charged by the police with a range of allegations in connection with plots to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.

None have yet been charged in a court of law. On Christmas Eve, the Harare High Court ordered that nine be taken to hospital, and the other eight be released.

All 17, including a two-year old child whose parents are among those in detention, are being held in Zimbabwe's maximum security prison, although none have yet been charged in court.

Petras said her organization has a list of a further 13 activists' names, whom she said were reportedly abducted and are still missing. Petras said the lawyers' group believes they also are somewhere in detention in Harare.

Lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has filed an urgent application with the Harare High court to prevent terrorism charges proceedings against human rights activist Jestina Mukoko.

The application also asks the court to investigate and charge those who kidnapped Mukoko from her home on December 3.

Human rights lawyers are also filing with the High Court a charge of contempt of court against the police for defying a court order on Christmas Eve for the release of the 17 being detained. In additions, another group of lawyers have filed an application for charges against the 17 to be dropped.

All 17 have told their lawyers that they have been assaulted or mistreated since they were abducted by security agents since October.

Human Rights director Petras said some of those in detention have been allowed visits from family members and some are receiving food sent to them.

Meanwhile, the situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate.

The Red Cross said Wednesday that it has deployed seven emergency teams normally reserved for major global disasters to fight Zimbabwe's worsening cholera epidemic.
They aim to help 1.5 million people in Zimbabwe, where more than 16-hundred people have died of cholera since August and nearly 30,000 have been infected, the Red Cross said.

The World Health Organization says the cholera epidemic was spread by disintegrating water and sewage systems and poor sanitation in urban centers. All ten Zimbabwe provinces now have cholera.

Besides the epidemic, Zimbabweans are also struggling against hyper-inflation, severe food shortages and chronic political instability.