The three Zimbabwean women activists who have accused government security forces of abduction, torture and sexual assault were ordered to remain in prison to face charges of lying about their ordeal.
MP Joana Mamombe and activists Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were detained in the infamous Chikirubi high-security jail since Friday after seeing their lawyer. They face prison sentences of up to 20 years or a fine.
The three women, all leaders of the Movement for Democratic Change’s youth section appeared weak and distressed as they climbed out of a prison truck on Monday morning minutes before their bail hearing at Harare’s central magistrates court.
The three women disappeared after being detained by police and soldiers last month after a demonstration in Harare and were found on a roadside 60 miles away from the capital two days later, badly injured and traumatised.
After giving detailed and graphic accounts of repeated beatings, humiliation and sexual assault to local and international media, the three were charged with “making false statements prejudicial to the state” and jailed. United Nations human rights experts have called for the charges against the three women to be dropped.
Kazembe Kazembe, Zimbabwe’s home affairs minister, said last week that the government “does not permit any of its institutions and agencies to use torture, forced disappearance or abductions” and that examinations by government doctors had not shown any injuries that matched the three women’s accounts.
MDC leaders in court held placards in support of the activists while riot police patrolled outside.
Fadzayi Mahere, a spokesman for the MDC, said the case against the three women was “flimsy”. “The torture continues as they are denied food and warm clothes in prison. The state is at war with its citizens,” Mahere said.
Relatives and lawyers have not been allowed to take food to the three women, leaving them without anything to eat for more than three days, representatives said.
“Since Friday they have not had anything meaningful so the magistrate ordered that they get food from outside,” Alec Muchadehama, the lead lawyer for the defendants, said.
Chikirubi maximum security prison in Harare is known for its poor conditions, with severe overcrowding, few facilities and rudimentary medical care. The women will spend at least another week in Chikirubi unless an appeal to the high court is successful.
Suspected state security services have abducted dozens of pro-democracy campaigners, trade unionists and opposition officials in recent years. Most have been released after several hours, though many have been badly beaten, stripped, threatened or otherwise mistreated.
The Zimbabwe human rights commission said its preliminary investigation into the alleged detention of the three women who appeared in court on Monday had established that serious abuses had taken place.
Authorities in Zimbabwe frequently suggest that such incidents have been staged to discredit the government, often with the alleged involvement of an outside power. (Source: The Guardian)