Zimbabwe activists including Jestina Mukoko bailed

Zimbabwean prisoners of conscience Jestina Mukoko and Broderick Takawira have been released after spending about three months in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare.

Both were victims of enforced disappearance, unlawful arrest, detention, and torture by state security agents. They were released on Saturday, after each paying US$600 bail and depositing surety of at least US$20,000 in title deeds. A third man, Fidelis Chiramba was also released. He remains in hospital receiving treatment.

Ten other detainees were granted bail. Four are likely to be released shortly. The other six will remain in custody because they are unable to present title deeds as part of the bail requirements.

Three other detainees, Andrison Manyere, Gandhi Mudzingwa and Kisimusi Dhlamini were denied bail.

On Tuesday, the High Court in Harare dismissed the state’s application opposing granting bail to Roy Bennett, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) treasurer general who was arrested by police in February.  The MDC is anxious to see whether the state will comply with the court order.

“While welcoming news about the release of Jestina Mukoko, Broderick Takawira and Fidelis Charamba and the granting of bail of 11 other political detainees, we also call on the Zimbabwean government to immediately end persecution of human rights defenders and political activists,” said Veronique Aubert, Deputy Programme Director for Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.

More than a dozen detainees remain in custody in Zimbabwe and they seem to have all been arrested simply for exercising their rights to freedom of association and expression.

“The Zimbabwean authorities should ensure that all those who remain in detention are not tortured or otherwise ill-treated, but are treated in compliance with human rights standards governing the treatment of detainees,” said Veronique Aubert.

“The detainees must have access to their lawyers, their families, warm clothing and blankets, adequate food and any medical attention they may require.”

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.

Ms Mukoko, the director of human rights organization the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), appeared in a Harare court on 24 December 2008 and she has stated in her affidavit that she was tortured by her abductors.

Fellow ZPP member Broderick Takawira, along with Pascal Gonzo was abducted from the ZPP offices in the suburb of Mt Pleasant in Harare on 8 December by a group of armed security agents who forced entry into the organisation’s premises.

Jestina Mukoko is in hospital receiving treatment and her release gives hope that the other remaining detainees may also be released.

Before these releases, at least 30 people were believed to still be in custody following a wave of abductions that started at the end of October 2008.

The state 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.