Jestina Mukoko still in custody – African leaders silent

Zimbabwean human rights activist Jestina Mukoko was abducted from her home by armed state security agents, at around 5am on 3 December 2008. Her whereabouts were unknown until 23 December. She has now spent over a month in detention.

Ms Mukoko, the director of human rights organization the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), appeared in a Harare court on Wednesday after having been tortured. She is yet to be charged.

Amnesty International has called for the immediate and unconditional release of Jestina Mukoko, along with two other ZPP members Broderick Takawira and Pascal Gonzo. All three are considered prisoners of conscience.

Broderick Takawira and Pascal Gonzo were abducted from the ZPP offices in the suburb of Mt Pleasant in Harare by about six men who forced entry into the organisation’s premises.

Amnesty International also called for an investigation into their arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and claims that all three were tortured by members of the security forces.

Following her abduction, Ms Mukoko was held and interrogated at various unidentified detention facilities. Every time she was moved from one facility to another, she was blindfolded. Throughout her detention, she was in solitary confinement.

During interrogations, she was forced to place her feet on the table and was beaten on the soles of her feet with a rubber object. At other times, the interrogators spread gravel on the floor, on which she was forced to kneel while the interrogation continued.

Throughout her torture, Ms Mukoko vehemently denied interrogators’ allegations that she and others were involved in the recruitment of youths to undergo military training to take up arms against the state.

At least 27 people are believed to still be in custody following a wave of abductions that started at the end of October 2008. Most of the detainees were denied access to their lawyers, family and medical treatment for prolonged periods.

The state has repeatedly failed to comply with orders from the courts for their release, and initially denied having taken the detainees.

It is believed that these arrests are part of a wider strategy by Zimbabwean security forces and other state authorities to silence critics and political opponents.

“The African Union Summit, being held from the 26 January, presents a crucial opportunity for African leaders to speak out and show solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe, rather than just with the leaders,” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s expert on Zimbabwe.

African leaders have not expressed outrage at the allegations of torture of these human rights defenders and have not called for investigations into their abductions, arbitrary arrests, and unlawful detentions.

They have consistently failed to publicly object to the persecution of critics of the government, defenders of human rights and political opponents.

“The silence of African leaders to condemn blatant violations of human rights treaties has significantly contributed to the prolongation of the Zimbabwean human rights crisis,” said Simeon Mawanza.

“It is disappointing to note that African leaders have squandered numerous opportunities to end the persecution of government critics.  They continue to be deaf to cries for help and have chosen to be unmoved by evidence of extreme human suffering in Zimbabwe.”

Jestina Mukoko and seven other detainees are being held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare.

Please express your solidarity with Jestina and the other detainees by sending cards and letters to them at the following address:

Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison

Chikurubi Prison Complex,

Private Bag 7392 Greendale,