(New York, December 24, 2008) – Zimbabwe authorities should immediately release a prominent Zimbabwean human rights activist, Jestina Mukoko, who appeared in a Harare magistrates court on December 24, 2008, on charges that seem politically motivated, Human Rights Watch said today. Eight activists from the party Movement for a Democratic Change (MDC) also appeared in court.
The nine are in police custody and are to be formally charged on December 29, Human Rights Watch said. According to the state-run Herald newspaper, the authorities have accused Mukoko of attempting to recruit people to overthrow the government.
“Zimbabwe authorities should free Jestina Mukoko instead of tossing patently ludicrous charges at her,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Her case underlines our grave concerns for the whereabouts of the dozens of other rights activists and MDC supporters who remain ‘disappeared.’”
Mukoko, who was abducted three weeks ago and feared “disappeared,” had last been seen being taken from her home in Norton by a dozen men claiming to be police on December 3. Since then, the police had repeatedly denied holding her. Lawyers for the nine have not had access to the detainees to ask about their treatment in custody or who had been holding them. Several other activists remain missing and unaccounted for.
Mukoko is director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project. She also sits on the Board of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum and the Zimbabwe Election Support Network.