Zimbabwe: Surprise release of Jestina Mukoko

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In a dramatic turn of political events in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko was released on bail with eighteen opposition activists whose detention on terrorism charges caused tension in Zimbabwe’s unity government.

On Tuesday, magistrate Catherine Chimanda sent the 18 back in jail but 24 hours later she granted the activists, bail of $600 on condition they surrender their passports and report to police once a week.

Their indictment and imprisonment brought new tension in the power-sharing government of President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. A statement from MDC-T indicated that the “ruling seriously” threatened “not only the life and health of the inclusive government, but its longevity and durability,” it is “a flagrant disregard to the commitments and agreements” in the power-sharing deal that led to the formation of the unity government in February, it said

The activists, who also include several members of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), say they were abducted by state security agents from their homes last year and tortured to force them to confess to planning to remove Mugabe from power.

The activists were granted bail in March with the consent of state prosecutors.

Human Rights Watch said in a statement Zimbabwean authorities should drop the criminal charges against the activists.

“This continued persecution makes it pretty clear that (Mugabe’s) ZANU-PF (party) is trying to undermine the new power-sharing administration and is an example of Zimbabwe’s overall lack of progress in respecting the rule of law and basic rights,” said Georgette Gagnon, HRW Africa director.

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