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Zimbabwe Opposition Activist Detained, Ordered to Undergo Mental Evaluation

FILE - Zimbabwean activist Joana Mamombe lies hospitalized in Harare on May 15, 2020, after allegedly being abducted and beaten by police and eventually dumped along a road some distance from the capital.

A Zimbabwean opposition activist who faces trial for making allegedly false claims of torture by suspected state security agents was ordered Thursday into two weeks’ detention to undergo a mental health evaluation.

Joana Mamombe was ordered by Judge Bianca Makwande to be evaluated by government doctors to ensure that she can stand trial in October. An official at Chikurubi maximum security prison, where Mamombe has been confined, told VOA the assessment could take place there or in a designated clinical setting.

Mamombe is one of three young female activists arrested May 13 for engaging in anti-government protests during the coronavirus lockdown. The women, including Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, say they were taken from Harare police custody by unidentified men who tortured and sexually abused them. The women were missing for almost two days, then were left on a road near Bindura, a town about 90 kilometers northeast of the capital.

The women face charges of breaking lockdown restrictions, trying to incite violence, and making false accusations of abduction, torture and sexual abuse. They all had been imprisoned at Chikurubi but have been free on bail.

FILE - Signage at the Chikurubi maximum security prison just outside Harare, June 3, 2019. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)
FILE - Signage at the Chikurubi maximum security prison just outside Harare, June 3, 2019. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

All three are members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-Alliance). Mamombe represented the capital area of Harare West in Zimbabwe’s Parliament for almost three years until July, when she and a handful of other MDC-Alliance lawmakers were recalled by new party leadership.

Admitted to hospital

Mamombe failed to report for a court hearing in Harare last week. An arrest warrant was issued but canceled after Mamombe’s doctor submitted evidence that Mamombe had been admitted to a local hospital for health issues.

Prosecutor Michael Reza then sought a court order for her mental evaluation. The government has suggested Mamombe is feigning mental illness to avoid having to stand trial.

On Thursday, Alec Muchadehama, an attorney with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights who is representing Mamombe, told VOA Zimbabwe, “She is now a prisoner. She was on bail but now she can no longer get medical help on her own."

The attorney said he was seeking Mamombe’s release on bail.

MDC-Alliance spokesman Clifford Hlatywayo protested Mamombe’s detention. In a tweet Thursday, he rhetorically asked, “How can you transfer a sick young lady from a hospital bed to the cold floors of Chikurubi prison? This persecution and abuse of civilians must end now.”

'Signs of rehearsal'

Zimbabwe’s home affairs minister, Kazembe Kazembe, in June released a statement contending that the three activists were being stage-managed by “regime change” proponents in organizations such as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights.

"Without at all preempting due process of the law, their three statements show glaring signs of rehearsal and even possible coaching, which may not stand up to rigorous cross examination,” Kazembe said.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called upon Zimbabwe’s government to respect human rights and to investigate the women’s claims.

This report originated in VOA’s Zimbabwe service.