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Activists tortured for ‘watching TV’ in Zimbabwe

Munyaradzi-Gwisai
Munyaradzi Gwisai, centre, appears in court in Harare with 45 others accused of plotting to remove the government of Zimbabwe 'the Egyptian way'. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Zimbabwean police tortured some of the 46 rights activists facing treason charges after their arrest last week at a meeting to discuss the mass protests in Egypt, a lawyer said on Thursday.

“Some of the accused persons were tortured and brutalised while in police custody,” lawyer Alec Muchadehama told a magistrate’s court outlining his clients’ complaints against the police. He said that during interrogation police had taken turns torturing some of the activists.

“They were brutalised all over the body and under their feet and buttocks with broomsticks, steel bars and other blunt objects,” he said at a procedural hearing on Thursday. Police did not respond to the allegations, but were expected to present their case in court later.

Munyaradzi Gwisai, a university lecturer and former lawmaker from Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party was arrested on Saturday along with 45 others at a meeting to discuss the uprising that led to the ouster of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

Those arrested included members of the audience and some passers-by. The group has been charged with treason, which carries the death sentence in Zimbabwe.

Police escort arrested activists into a magistrates' court in Harare. The activists are accused of trying to subvert an elected government and treason. (Philimon Bulawayo, Reuters / February 24, 2011)

Gwisai said in court that state security agents had beaten him up when he gave what they deemed to be unsatisfactory answers on the activists’ alleged plot to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980.

“While under recordings I was given particular instruction that I must admit that I had said, ‘Abaixa Mugabe’ (down with Mugabe) and that he must be removed. I did not utter those words, but I also explained President Mugabe is an elected leader and can be subjected to the will of the people,” Gwisai said.

“Whenever I gave a reply which was not satisfactory I was asked to lie on my stomach and I should have received 15 to 20 lashings,” he added. “I suffered incredible pain, it was sadistic and a tragedy for this country.” He said the meeting had been a “scholarly and intellectual debate.”

Their lawyer said some of the activists who were on life-prolonging anti-HIV drugs had been denied access to their medicine. The prosecution said on Thursday the activists’ meeting had been convened “to organise the removal of a constitutional government by unconstitutional means.

“In their speeches, the accused highlighted that there was a long-serving dictator, authoritarian leader, general poverty, unemployment and capitalist practices where the general populace of Zimbabwe was suffering,” prosecutors said in their charge sheet.

The arrests have drawn international condemnation, including from the US State Department, which said Mugabe “did not learn the right lessons” from the popular revolts in Egypt and Tunisia. The hearing continues on Monday. AFP

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