"World's youngest ever freedom fighter" released from Robert Mugabe's detention
HARARE, Zimbabwe – A 2-year-old boy has been released from jail after being held for weeks with his parents in what the Zimbabwean opposition calls a crackdown on dissent, a lawyer said Wednesday.
Nigel Mutemagau was released to other relatives Tuesday after the judge said there was no reason to hold him, defense lawyer Charles Kwaramba said.
The boy’s parents, opposition party members Collen Mutemagau and Violet Mupfuranhehwe, are accused of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe. At a court hearing Wednesday, at which Mutemagau and Mupfuranhehwe appeared without Nigel in their arms for the first time since they were detained, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausika ordered that all the defendants be taken to a hospital for medical examinations to investigate charges they were tortured.
Attorney general Prince Machaya promised the order would be followed. Similar orders from lower court judges have been ignored. It was not clear when the couple would be taken to a hospital.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said Wednesday the charges against the boy’s parents and six other defendants are "trumped up." The party said those detained — even Nigel — were abused by security agents.
Kwaramba said Nigel was hit as he and his parents were taken from their home, and that fact would be included in a dossier of evidence showing that detainees were beaten and tortured.
Police and prosecutors have denied such mistreatment. Judges have yet to rule on defense attorneys’ requests that all the detainees be released because they were tortured and illegally detained.
Nigel and his parents were among a detained group that included prominent peace activist Jestina Mukoko, whose whereabouts had been unknown for weeks. Police had denied they were being held.
The activists were finally brought to court Dec. 24, the same day state media reported they were accused in a plot widely dismissed as a fabrication. They have yet to be formally charged.
The defendants are accused of attempting to recruit anti-government fighters to train in neighboring Botswana.
Zimbabwean officials have repeatedly made such accusations, which Botswana and the opposition party have denied. South African President Kgalema Motlanthe dismissed the Zimbabwean allegations, saying the Southern African Development Community, the main regional bloc, opened an investigation when Mugabe’s government first raised them, but "we never believed" them.
Activists fear the Mugabe government could use the charges as an excuse to declare a state of emergency and withdraw from power-sharing talks.
A power-sharing deal signed in September calls for Mugabe to remain president and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to take the new post of prime minister. The agreement has stalled over a dispute about who would control key Cabinet posts — and over charges Mugabe has stepped up harassment of dissidents.
Cholera, meanwhile, continued to spread because of Zimbabwe‘s crumbling health care system and water supply infrastructure. The United Nations said Wednesday the death toll from cholera in Zimbabwe has risen to 2,106, with more than 40,448 people infected since the outbreak began in August.
The U.N. and others caution the official figures may be far lower than actual cases because many Zimbabweans are dying before they can reach medical help.
Rachel Pounds, who directs private aid agency Save the Children‘s Zimbabwe operations, said children were particularly vulnerable to a disease that should be easy to prevent and cure. Her organization "believes that cholera may have become a silent killer of young children in Zimbabwe," Pounds said in a statement Wednesday.
"Young children are the quickest to recover if they get proper care, but they are also the quickest to die if they do not," she said.