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Zimbabwean Opposition Activists Released


Morgan Tsvangirai, the founder of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and dozens of opposition activists jailed last Sunday were released late Tuesday into the custody of their attorneys. The detainees were allegedly beaten and tortured while in police custody. Peta Thornycroft has more on the story for VOA from Harare.

The activists, including civil rights personalities and journalists, were arrested Sunday while on their way to attend a banned prayer rally. Many of them, including opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, were allegedly beaten and tortured while in police custody.

According to human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, there was no magistrate or prosecutor present at the late-night court session Tuesday. She said some of the detainees remained in the hospital where they had been taken earlier in the day. Tsvangirai, who is said to have suffered severe head injuries while in police custody, was among them.

The release of the activists followed negotiations between defense lawyers and the police. All those freed have to appear in court Wednesday to be either formally charged or released.

The activists' attorney, Mtetwa, reacted angrily to the late night court proceedings, which were controlled by the police. She said, "The law has been taken over by the police." Soon, she said, "We will see our courts run by policemen."

Following his release, Arthur Mutambara, leader of a splinter group of the Movement for Democratic Change, vowed his group "will continue to defy this illegal regime."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said the arrest and its aftermath show the "ruthless and repressive" nature of the government of President Robert Mugabe and called for the release of the detained activists.

British ambassador Andrew Pocock, who was at the court, described the wounds he saw as "ghastly."

He said the brutality inflicted on MDC executives and activists was worse than the torture suffered by trade unionists arrested in Harare last September as they about to begin an anti-proverty march.