A legal team dispatched to remote western Zimbabwe for a politically charged court case was stopped by police and prevented from attending the hearing, an independent lawyers group said Tuesday, in what they said is another example of mounting political intimidation.
The group said in a statement that lawyers and supporters were stopped and questioned about their automotive documents. That prevented them from reaching Tuesday's bail hearing for Moses Mzila-Ndlovu, a co-minister in the state national healing commission and a member of the former opposition in Zimbabwe's fragile coalition, and a Roman Catholic priest detained last week for allegedly holding an unapproved memorial service for victims of massacres in western Zimbabwe after independence in 1980.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group said the two were released later Tuesday on $500 bail.
Zimbabwe has seen many recent instances of politically motivated arrests. Political violence and arrests have surged this year since longtime ruler President Robert Mugabe called for elections this year to bring an end to the troubled coalition government.
Security services controlled by Mugabe have long been accused of politically motivated intimidation.
The lawyers group said since Mugabe joined a coalition with the former opposition after disputed and violent elections in 2008, 29 former opposition lawmakers of 96 still in the legislature have been arrested or charged with various offenses in a campaign of harassment against them.
Mugabe's lawmakers have been named in alleged criminal cases, but none have been arrested or charged, the group said Tuesday.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party spokesman Nelson Chamisa was summoned to court last month to face a minor driving offense allegedly committed two years ago. Finance Minister Tendai Biti, a top Tsvangirai aide, is facing charges of not reporting a road traffic accident after colliding with a street sign and bending the fender of his official Mercedes.
No other vehicles were involved and police stepped in after he took the car to the government's repair shop.
Tsvangirai's energy minister Elton Mangoma is facing trial for allegedly bypassing official tender procedures to buy gasoline and equipment for the state power utility. He spent three weeks in jail before being granted bail.
Douglas Mwonzora, a Tsvangirai lawmaker and co-chair of the body rewriting the nation's constitution ahead of this year's scheduled vote, also spent three weeks in jail for alleged incitement to public violence. He then faced a second charge of insulting Mugabe, 87, when discussing reports of his ailing health.
Mzila-Ndlovu attended and Father Marko Mkandla officiated at a service in Lupane, northwest of the second city of Bulawayo, last week remembering an estimated 20,000 civilians killed when troops loyal to Mugabe crushed an armed uprising in western Zimbabwe that ended in 1987.
The priest is accused of "communicating false statements against the state" by referring to the killings and stirring "offense to a particular tribe."
Police have also alleged he was found in possession of pornographic material.
The uprising by the western Ndebele ethnic group was put down by North Korean-trained troops, mostly from Mugabe's majority Shona tribe.
Earlier this year, another Tsvangirai lawmaker was charged with possessing marijuana after he went to report a theft from his home and police searched his car.
That case was typical of police harassment of Mugabe's opponents, the lawyers group said.
Last year, police arrested a Bulawayo artist and shut down his exhibition of paintings and graphics depicting bloodshed in the western Matabeleland province before a peace pact was signed in 1987. He later fled his home after receiving threats.
The massacres, many documented by church groups, left deep scars in communities in western Zimbabwe and the killings have never been publicly acknowledged by Mugabe or his security chiefs.