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Zimbabwe Police Defy High Court Order

By Peta Thornycroft
26 December 2008

Lawyers representing detained pro-democracy activists and officials of the Movement for Democratic Change say police have refused to release any of those who the Harare High Court ordered freed on Christmas Eve. At least six of the nine who were charged with terrorism and were abducted weeks ago by state security agents, were transferred on Christmas from police cells to Zimbabwe's main maximum security prison.

Lawyers for the activists say Jestina Mukoko, who heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project and was abducted from her home by armed men on December 3, was taken to the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison early on Christmas Day. So were five others, including a two-year-old child.

Judge Yunus Omerjee had ordered that they be taken to hospital after they had been charged in the Magistrate's Court earlier in the day.

The judge also ordered that several others who had also been abducted be freed from police cells where they had turned up early in the week after being held in a secret location. He said their detention was illegal.

Lawyer Alex Muchadahama said Friday that he has no access to any of his clients at the maximum security prison or at various police stations around Harare.

He and another human rights lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, said many court orders were ignored by the police. Mtetwa said in the past most judges were too afraid to charge the police with contempt of court for defying many court orders.

She said the lawyers will continue to try to get the court order acknowledged, but she held out little hope.

President Robert Mugabe has said that the Movement for Democratic Change was training insurgents in Botswana, which both the MDC and the Botswanan government deny.

David Coltart, a veteran human rights lawyer who has defended Mr. Mugabe's political opponents since 1980, said the police force have a long history of refusing to obey court orders. He added that Mr. Mugabe had regularly ignored the rule of law.

No one is sure how many people have been abducted since October. The majority were kidnapped by security agents in December.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in temporary exile in Botswana, has said he will have no more negotiations with ZANU-PF for an inclusive government unless all those abducted and now detained, are not freed or appear in a court of law by January 1.



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