Eighteen human rights and political activists, including the Director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, were detained in Zimbabwe yesterday (Tuesday) just two months after they were released on bail after being tortured in prison.
Amnesty International considers all the detainees,who are accused of trying to topple the previous government, to be “potential prisoners of conscience" and is calling for their immediate and unconditional release or a prompt and fair trial.
"The trial of these human rights activists has all the hallmarks of a political trial," said Veronique Aubert, Deputy Director of Amnesty’s Africa Programme.
"The charges appear to be similar to the charges used during the 2002 treason trial of Morgan Tsvangirai, now Prime Minister."
The news has caused renewed concerns about the slow progress of change in Zimbabwe’s government. The UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in a statement that it was “disappointing.”
“The Foreign Secretary has previously said the release of all political detainees is one of the principal conditions for full international re-engagement with Zimbabwe,” Aubert said. “This remains the case at this crucial time for Zimbabwe."
In the United States, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said that the news was “troubling” and “just another example of my concern about the lack of democracy…in Zimbabwe”. He reiterated that there would be no significant aid to the country until the government has made wide reforms.
Amnesty said that the detentions “cast a dark shadow” over Zimbabwe’s new unity government and “calls into question its commitment to ending a culture of human rights violations used by the previous government against perceived opponents.”