Zimbabwe activists accused of lying about torture, face jail

Zimbabwe opposition activists arrested on accusations of lying that they were abducted make a court appearance at the magistrates courts in Harare, Friday,June, 12, 2020. The three opposition activists alleged that they were sexually abused by their abductors, whom they said took them from a police station in May following an anti government protest. Despite being hospitalised at the time, prosecutors charged them with contravening lockdown regulations.(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
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Three young opposition activists in Zimbabwe who said they had been abducted and sexually assaulted faced charges Friday of lying about their treatment as the government claims their allegations are part of a plot to destabilize the country.

The three women face up to 20 years in prison or a fine. Their case has become the latest flashpoint in Zimbabwe, with a group of United Nations experts this week speaking out against a “reported pattern of disappearances and torture” by government agents in the southern African nation.

The women already faced charges of contravening Zimbabwe’s coronavirus lockdown. On Friday new charges accused them of making false statements to police “alleging that they had been unlawfully detained or kidnapped by some unknown people who claimed to be police officers.” The women are also accused of intending to incite violence with their statements.

Prosecutor Charles Muchemwa opposed bail, asserting that the trio would flee with the help of foreign embassies before the case is concluded.

Magistrate Bianca Makwande said she will rule on the bail application on Monday, meaning the women will spend the weekend in remand prison.

The women’s lawyer, Alec Muchadehama, described them as “victims who are being turned into villains.” He argued that their arrest was an attempt to “cover up” the abduction.

The women alleged their abductors took them from a police station in May after they were arrested for organizing an anti-government protest.

The women were missing for nearly 48 hours before being released. While they were treated in a hospital for their injuries, they were charged with contravening lockdown regulations by participating in the protest.

Political tensions have been high in Zimbabwe, where an economic crisis highlighted by inflation of above 700% is stoking fresh anti-government sentiment.

Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe told reporters on Wednesday that the alleged abductions had been fabricated and were part of a wider plot to destabilize President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

The minister dismissed “rumors” of an impending coup, saying the government “is stable and peaceful internally.”

Flanked by military and police commanders, Kazembe accused political rivals, local and foreign Christian preachers and foreign embassies of trying to stir up dissent.

Speaking at a ruling party meeting the same day, the president also spoke of a plot against his government which “culminated in the purported abductions.”