The longtime opposition leader was sworn in as prime minister Wednesday by longtime rival Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai said in a speech after the inauguration ceremony that he wanted political prisoners freed immediately. His spokesman, Joseph Mungwari, said no assurances of release were obtained during the visit to a maximum-security prison near the capital.
Mungwari said the prime minister spent 45 minutes with 16 prisoners linked to his Movement for Democratic Change party. They have been accused since October of subversion and recruiting fighters to overthrow Mugabe. The MDC denies the charges, saying they were trumped up by Mugabe’s party.
"It is well known the prisoners are not well" in the harsh conditions of the prison 12 miles (20 kilometers) outside Harare, Mungwari said.
Three other detainees, including Jestina Mukoko, a top human rights and peace activist held since Dec. 3, were taken from prison later Thursday for medical examinations at a private clinic in Harare, their lawyers said. Private doctors had said Mukoko, 72-year-old Fidelis Chiramba, and Ghandi Mudzingwa, a personal aide of Tsvangirai, needed care urgently after weeks in prison.
Irene Petras, head of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose members have represented at least 40 political prisoners arrested in recent months, said the three needed urgent hospitalization. A government doctor was sent Thursday to corroborate the diagnoses of private doctors. His findings were expected to be submitted to a court Friday in a hearing to demand they be taken to receive better care.
Prison authorities have already ignored several court rulings ordering all the detainees receive adequate medical care.
Also Thursday, Tsvangirai, a former labor leader, met with officials of the main labor federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. The labor coalition had joined several independent Zimbabwean groups in calling for fresh elections, not power-sharing.
Thursday, activist Lovemore Matombo said labor groups saw the unity government as a "transitional arrangement" leading to fresh, free and fair elections.
"We shall see how it works," Matombo said, saying workers would hold protest strikes if they were not satisfied with the Tsvangirai-Mugabe government.
Tsvangirai won the most votes in March presidential elections, but not enough to avoid a runoff against Mugabe. Tsvangirai dropped out of the June runoff because of state-sponsored violence against his supporters. Mugabe claimed victory in the runoff, and Zimbabwe had been at political impasse until the power-sharing deal devised by neighboring leaders was implemented.