U.N. torture expert detained at Harare airport

Zimbabwe earlier barred at the last minute a week-long visit by Nowak who had been invited to the country by the government, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

The Austrian academic was only told his visit had been postponed as he arrived in Johannesburg on his way to Zimbabwe where his fact-finding mission was set for October 28-November 4.

The invitation marked the first time that Zimbabwe had offered to open up to an expert working for the U.N. Human Rights Council. Nowak is the Council’s special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

The urgency of an objective fact-finding by an independent U.N. expert was highlighted by allegations of arrest, intimidation and harassment of supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and of human rights defenders in the past few days, the U.N. said.

After he was barred from Zimbabwe, Nowak had immediately called on Harare to reinstate the programme and allow him to proceed, the U.N. office in Geneva said in a statement.

Nowak was told the decision to postpone his visit was due to talks in Harare between mediators from the 15-nation South African Development Community and leaders of Zimbabwe’s troubled power-sharing government, the U.N. said.

The mediators aim to resolve growing differences over power-sharing between President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and the MDC.