A Zimbabwean High Court judge, Charles Hungwe, on Tuesday issued four court orders, including one on the Home Affairs Minister, Kembo Mohadi, to immediately produce 12 MDC activists held incommunicado since October 30 on charges of receiving training in sabotage, terrorism and banditry in neighbouring Botswana.
The High Court orders were issued to Mohadi, Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, the Officer Commanding the Homicide Section of the Criminal Investigations Department, Chrispen Makedenge and the investigating officer, one Detective Constable Muhuya.
According to the Zimbabwe Times, the Magistrates Court had earlier expressed dissatisfaction over the defiance by the police, who failed to produce the twelve in court.
Defence lawyers then approached the High Court seeking an order to declare the continued detention of the MDC activists illegal.
The Zimbabwe Times says that the 12 were on October 30 seized by state security agents in Banket, Mashonaland West province. The State agents raided the homes of the MDC leadership and arrested the MDC members, including a two-year-old girl.
During the arrests, police are said to have seized property including a computer and official party documents at the home of MDC’s national executive member, Concilia Chinanzvavana.
She and her husband, Emmanuel, an elected councillor in Banket, are alleged to be among the 12 MDC activists who received military training in Botswana.
Others are MDC Ward 22 councillor, Fidelis Chiramba, the losing candidate in senatorial election for Zvimba, Fani Tembo; ward coordinator Lloyd Tambwa, as well as MDC activists Fidelis Musona and Ernest Mudimu. Other MDC activists being held incommunicado are Jerry Musona, Fanuel Tembo, Theater Kaseke, and one other identified only as Mutendagawi.
The Zimbabwe Times quoted a source saying the 12 were transferred from Banket to Harare and were initially held at Mabelreign Police Station before they were moved to Avondale Police Station.
They were then released into the custody of Makedenge, who has moved them to an unknown location.
They are being charged with treason under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act for allegedly undergoing training in banditry, which carries life imprisonment if convicted. The 12 are being charged under a clause that reads: “Any person who attends or undergoes any course of training, whether inside or outside Zimbabwe, for the purpose of enabling him or her to commit any act of insurgency, banditry, sabotage or terrorism in Zimbabwe shall be guilty of training as an insurgent, bandit, saboteur or terrorist and liable to imprisonment for life or any shorter period.”
The officials and activists are accused of being part of a team sent by the MDC to Botswana to receive training in sabotage, terrorism and banditry.
Botswana has angrily rejected the charges, and invited a fact-finding mission to prove the allegations, provoking a diplomatic tiff between Harare and Gaborone.
President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party alleges that the MDC was plotting acts of banditry to destabilise government and oust the veteran leader.
Justice Hungwe on Tuesday ordered Mohadi, Chihuri, Makedenge and Muhuya, who claimed they were not aware of the whereabouts of the accused in opposing affidavits, to utilize all sources including the CID and other private informers, at their disposal to locate the 12 detainees immediately.
Hungwe declared the continued detention of the 12 beyond 96 hours was blatantly illegal and contemptuous of the High Court; he said the officers were overstepping their bounds.
The defence team stated that there was mounting apprehension that the 12 could have been harmed or even murdered. Hungwe said the allegation against the activists was alarming and required the serious attention of the police officers concerned.
Police officials presented a daily progress report of their efforts to date, including searches of various places for the 12.
Hungwe’s order compels the respondents and the police intelligence agency, the PISI Unit, to establish the whereabouts of the detainees and inform the court. The court order also directed the police officers and other respondents to protect the lives and rights of the detainees.
The MDC has denied the banditry charges and also rejected claims by Zanu-PF lead negotiator at the talks, Patrick Chinamasa, that Western intelligence services in collusion with the Botswana government were attempting to transform Tsvangirai into a warlord like the late Angolan rebel leader, Jonas Savimbi.