It’s a bad time to be defender of human rights in Zimbabwe.
Late last year, Zimbabwe authorities abducted eighteen human rights defenders and political activists. Their families feared them dead. Those seized were eventually dropped off at police stations and processed for crimes against the state, including sabotage, terrorism and treason. During their four months in captivity, the activists claim they were tortured and ill-treated by state agents.
Thankfully bail conditions were settled in March and April for most. However, three of those originally detained – Kisimusi Dhlamini, Gandhi Mudzingwa and Andrison Manyere – were released only to be re-arrested in their hospital beds three days later.
Earlier this week, the eighteen activists reappeared in court where new indictments were filed by the Zimbabwe Attorney General. Based on the new indictments, bail was revoked and they were all returned to prison. Following immediate international condemnation, most of the prisoners were granted bail again on Wednesday when President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai intervened and ordered the Attorney General to allow bail.
Not to make light of an awful situation, but the Zimbabwe government might want to consider putting revolving doors on the courthouse and prisons because apparently, being a human rights defender or political activist in Zimbabwe grants you a “go straight to jail, do not pass go” card on a regular basis.
The humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe escalated drastically following elections in March of 2008. State sponsored violence led to large numbers of torture, disappearances and sexual assaults. Regional authorities negotiated a power sharing agreement in October; however activists and human rights defenders continued to be targeted for their efforts to provide a better quality of life, such as equitable food aid distribution for Zimbabweans.
Listen to a 30 second audio clip of activist Jestina Mukoko after her release in March, discussing the support her and her family received during her ordeal from Amnesty International members.
Written by Sarah Hager, Southern Africa Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA