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Zimbabwe Trade Unionists Tell Court They Were Tortured

Leaders of Zimbabwe's main labor union appeared in court late Friday to answer charges they caused a disturbance in Harare during a brief demonstration earlier in the week. Among the 30 unionists brought to court, half were obviously injured while another was so injured he could not appear in court.

The secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Wellington Chibebe, remained hospitalized Friday, too injured to be brought to court to face charges of breaching the peace. According to medical records that were were presented in court, Chibebe has a broken arm and head injuries that needed surgery.

Many of the union leaders who were able to appear in Harare's lower court were also injured. Some had splints on their arms and hands; several others walked with difficulty.

The lawyer for the unionists, Alec Muchadehama, told the court they had been brutally beaten by five policemen at a suburban police station after they were detained on Wednesday for trying to hold a demonstration to protest economic conditions in Zimbabwe.

The demonstration was shortlived, being broken up by police within minutes.

Witnesses say the unionists were beaten up by police before being arrested and, according to evidence presented by the defense, the beatings continued in the police station after their arrests.

Defense lawyers had to go to the High Court for an order to be allowed to see their clients and to force the state to take those seriously injured to hospital for treatment.

The defense team also told the court that the cells in which some of the unionists were held had been declared unfit for human occupation two years ago by Zimbabwe's highest court. Defense lawyers said the detainees were not allowed to wear shoes and that their cells were running with raw sewage.

Although the judge, Olivia Mariga, granted bail to the detained unionists, they were not freed on Friday. Court officials said the hearing ended too late to process the paperwork for their release so they were locked up for another night.