Detained Zimbabwe activists in danger

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said on Saturday the government had defied several court orders since December to release the detainees and allow them to seek medical treatment.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has charged more than 30 members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) with bombing police stations and recruiting people for an insurgency — charges all the accused have rejected.

The detainees have been severely tortured and the health of several, including a 72-year-old villager who has been held for 100 days, has deteriorated over the last few weeks, the rights group leaders said at a press conference.

"The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights unreservedly condemns the continued denial of access to adequate medical treatment of persons detained at Chikurubi Maximum Prison following their alleged abduction and subsequent torture," said Douglas Gwatidzo, the group’s chairman.

A day after visiting some of the detainees Gwatidzo said the condition of a number of these people was quite serious.

Asked whether their lives were in danger, Gwatidzo said: "These people are in danger and need adequate attention and care in a functional hospital."

Irene Petras, chairwoman of the lawyers rights group, said the 72-year-old man, who has a congestive cardiac condition, had been abducted from his village by security agents in October. 

"He was put into a deep freezer, then removed, had his clothes taken off and hot water poured over his genitals," she said.

A Zimbabwe court last month ordered an investigation into the torture allegations, but Petras said prison and police authorities had continued to defy court orders to check the accused into a private hospital for treatment.

Police officials were not immediately available for comment. They have previously said that detainees were being treated in prison and taken to hospital when necessary.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the opposition was still pushing Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party to release the activists.

"For us, we are not just pressing ZANU-PF to allow them to get the medical treatment that they require but that they should release them because they are innocent," he told Reuters.

"It is not true that we have forgotten about them," he said.

Zimbabwe’s parliament passed a constitutional bill on Thursday to allow the establishment of a coalition government set up under a September 15 power-sharing deal. The accord is seen as the best way to end a deep political and economic crisis.

Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC agreed last week to join a unity government with Mugabe’s party after months of wrangling over the control of ministerial posts.