46 accused of treason in Zimbabwe to stay in jail

AP News
Posted: Feb 23, 2011 12:50 PM
46 accused of treason in Zimbabwe to stay in jail

A Zimbabwean court ordered 46 people to spend a fifth night in jail Wednesday on charges they intended to plot the overthrow of longtime President Robert Mugabe's government "the Egyptian way" at a lecture on the mass uprisings.

The charges carry a possible death sentence, and the U.S. State Department has condemned the arrests.

Defense attorney Alec Muchadehama said he has been denied free access to the detainees since they were taken into custody Saturday, and prosecutors gave no reasons why the defendants had not been brought to court within the usual 48 hours.

At a hearing late Wednesday, Harare magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi ordered the detainees to reappear in court on Thursday.

Prosecutors allege that former opposition lawmaker Munyaradzi Gwisai and the other participants were conducting the meeting to "organize, strategize and implement the removal of the constitutional government of Zimbabwe ... the Egyptian way."

In court documents, prosecutors said the attendees watched video footage of the Egyptian revolt that brought down Hosni Mubarak after nearly three decades in power. Prosecutors say the Zimbabwean participants took turns making speeches calling for a revolt against Mugabe's longtime authoritarian rule.

Mugabe has been in power since independence in 1980, and once declared in 2008 that "Zimbabwe is mine." Critics accuse him of violently suppressing the opposition and destroying the country's economy through a land redistribution program.

While he entered in a power-sharing deal with the country's longtime opposition leader after the violence-plagued 2008 elections, Mugabe has said he has the power to unilaterally call elections this year to end the fragile unity government.

Security authorities have said they will clamp down on any alleged plotters of "destabilization."

Relatives say the activists were assaulted in police custody but there were no evident signs of injuries when they appeared in court Wednesday. The activists, including 11 women, appeared in dirty, soiled clothing.

Gwisai, head of the local branch of the International Socialist Organization, wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the legend: "World at a crossroads."

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley criticized the arrests in a comment posted to Twitter on Monday.

"Activists meet in Zimbabwe to discuss the implications of Egypt and Tunisia and end up arrested. Mugabe did not learn the right lessons," he wrote.