The three Zimbabwean women, who were abducted and tortured by suspected state security forces, have now been threatened with prosecution by the country’s justice ministry for breaking lockdown rules.
Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the women made up the story to divert attention from the fact that they broke lockdown rules by attending a protest and that they should instead be arrested for violating rules aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.
“I don’t believe the abduction is genuine,” Mr Ziyambi told the BBC.
The three, including an MP, are being treated in a hospital for their injuries after they say they were beaten and forced to drink each other’s urine.
Opposition activists allege that abduction and torture remains a tactic of the authorities even after the end the presidency of Robert Mugabe, who was overthrown in 2017.
Cecilia Chimbiri, who is a youth campaigner with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, has given graphic testimony to the BBC of how she, MP Joana Mamombe and NetsaiMarowa, were maltreated over 24 hours by alleged state agents.
She said that they were stopped at a police checkpoint last Wednesday, as they were returning from a small protest march that they had organised in the capital, Harare, over the number of people going hungry during the coronavirus lockdown.
Two men in police uniforms stepped out an unmarked car, Ms Chimbiri explained, and told them that they were under arrest for flouting restrictions.
They were then escorted in a convoy to a police station where they were told to get out of their car and into another vehicle as they had gone to the wrong place.
They were then driven to a location that she later learnt was about 120km (75 miles) north of Harare, where they were thrown into a pit dug into the earth outside and subjected to hours of beatings and sexual assault by five men, the activist said.
“I was praying and screaming inside the pit. At one point, I prayed for a swift death. I was in so much pain,” Ms. Chimbiri told the BBC on the phone from her hospital bed.
The three were left on Thursday night at the roadside on the outskirts of Bindura town, north of the capital.
The police have a different version of events.
Despite the fact that private and state-run newspapers reported on Thursday, a day after they went missing, that the police had confirmed the women’s arrest, the police later denied making the statement.
The justice minister said it was important to remember that the women had been involved in an illegal protest.
“Firstly there is a pandemic, and the world over people are being told to stay home. They decide to break that,” Mr Ziyambi said.
“The lockdown has created an environment where they are no longer relevant. They wanted relevance. It is diversionary tactic and once they are discharged [from hospital]they must be arrested for breaking the law.”
The women are now under police guard at a private Harare hospital.
The MP’s condition is said to have deteriorated and she was in no condition to speak to the BBC and Ms. Marowa was asleep when the BBC tried to contact her. (Source: BBC)