HARARE, ZIMBABWE - A court in Zimbabwe has ordered the release of aides to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who were arrested along with a prominent human-rights lawyer about two weeks ago. The High Court judge ordered the release of officials on bail of $500 each.
The four officials were arrested on March 17, a day after Zimbabwe voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution. A renowned human-rights lawyer who tried to seek their release was freed Monday.
The officials were accused of impersonating police, while the lawyer was accused of obstructing the course of justice. A lawyer for Tsvangirai's aides, Chris Mhike, confirmed the High Court had overturned a lower court ruling to deny the four bail.
“In place of that negative judgements, there is now a positive judgment to allow all four appellants to walk," he said.
The arrests heightened tensions within Zimbabwe’s fragile power sharing government of Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe. It also raised fears Mugabe's allies in the police and security forces are cracking down on opponents before elections expected later this year.
The last elections in 2008 were marred by widespread violence, most of it by Mugabe supporters against Tsvangirai's supporters.
In contrast, the March 16 constitutional referendum was peaceful. But that was a case where both main parties agreed the new constitution should be approved. The upcoming elections will be fiercely contested, and before the vote police have moved to confiscate radios that pick up foreign stations.