Rights lawyers arrested on eve of Tsvangirai swearing-in

Other News Materials 10 February 2009 22:48 (UTC +04:00)

Two leading human rights lawyers, one of them closely involved in defending illegally detained pro-democracy activists, were arrested Tuesday on the eve of the swearing-in of a new power-sharing interim government in Zimbabwe, lawyers said, dpa reported.

Rose Hanzi, who has been representing 28 activists of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change arrested in October, and Tawanda Zhuwarara, both of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, were seized outside Zimbabwe's parliament building at lunchtime, said ZLHR head Irene Petras.

"They were taken into a guardroom in parliament and then collected by police and taken to Harare central police station," she said. "We have not been allowed any access. We don't know what the charges are or anything."

The arrest comes amid angry demands by the MDC that the detainees and two others arrested with them be released ahead of Wednesday's swearing-in of the new government that has Tsvangirai serving as prime minister under 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe, in power for nearly 29 years.

The MDC has previously insisted that their release be a condition for the swearing in to go ahead.

All of the 30, including Jestina Mukono, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, have been tortured, held in solitary confinement, and refused medical treatment while state security officials have repeatedly ignored court orders for their release.

Observers say Tuesday's arrests may see the MDC pull out of the ceremony. Earlier Tuesday, Tsvangirai said he was "insisting" on their release before the swearing-in.

"It's outrageous," said an MDC official who asked not to be named. "They are supposed to be releasing people, but they go on picking up more. You couldn't ask for more blatant evidence of Mugabe's bad faith. How can you deal with people like this?"

The power-sharing agreement was brokered by leaders of the Southern African Development Community, the 15-nation regional bloc, after the MDC won elections in March but Mugabe forced a run-off presidential ballot that ended up with him as the winner of a one-man race.

Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off following a wave of violence by Mugabe's ZANU(PF) party that saw 180 MDC supporters murdered and thousands savagely beaten, maimed and made homeless.