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Detained Zimbabwe Activists Forced to Stay in Prison


A high court judge has ruled that a human rights campaigner and about 30 others, mostly members of the Movement for Democratic Change, all accused by police of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, should remain in jail. The continued detentions are in defiance of an earlier high court order issued by a different judge which should have freed them.

Zimbabwe's High Court Judge Alphius Chitakunye ruled that a human rights worker and 30 others should remain in custody until they appear before a magistrate's court Monday.

The judge also and refused to uphold an earlier ruling ordering police to investigate and disclose the identities of human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko's kidnappers, and where she had been held.

Mukoko and the others are being held in a maximum security prison with convicted prisoners although none have yet been formally charged in court.

Opposition leaders say the detention of Zimbabwe Peace Project leader Jestina Mukoko is part of Mr. Mugabe's clampdown on pro-democracy activists.

Human Rights lawyer Beatrice Mtwetwa said Judge Chitakunye has shown there was "a breakdown of law and order" in Zimbabwe.

There have been several court orders since a number of those in detention were abducted from their homes or places of work since October. In each case the police said they did not have them in custody.

According to lawyers, the group began appearing in prison cells Christmas week after being transferred from secret locations by Zimbabwe's Central Intelligence Organization.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai said two weeks before Christmas he would not take part in a unity government until all those who had been abducted were released or charged in a court of law.

Lawyers have asked the courts to identify those who are responsible for the abductions. The first were a group of 15 kidnapped in October from their homes near a small farming town, Banket.

Most of the others were abducted mostly in December. Mukoko was abducted from her home on December 3.

Lawyers are still unsure about how many are charged and how many are detained. Some say the total is 31, including a two-year-old child.

There is an existing court order, which has also been defied by the police, condemning Harare police cells as unfit for human occupation.

Those in detention have told their lawyers that they have been assaulted and mistreated in detention.

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