14 January 2009

Zimbabwe: Abducted Baby Released to Strangers

The youngest political detainee, two year old Nigel Mutemagawo who has spent nearly three months in prison, was finally released on Tuesday afternoon. Nigel was released from Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, but not with his mother Violet Mupfuranhehwe.

The two year old was abducted by state agents last October, together with his mother and father Collen Mutemagawo, who is the MDC Zvimba South youth chairperson. Both his parents remain in prison on allegations of trying to overthrow the ZANU PF regime. They are still being held despite a High Court ruling that they should be released.

Rights lawyers said although its good news that the child has finally been freed following a lengthy and unlawful incarceration, it is feared that Nigel will be further traumatised as he was taken away from his mother and given to MDC officials, who are total strangers.

One of the lawyers, Andrew Makoni, believes Nigel was at some stage suckling during the period he was in detention and it is not known if the mother had stopped breastfeeding. Makoni said it is disheartening that a child that young is separated from his parents over spurious charges.

He said: "It is not in the best interest of minor children for them to be in custody of third parties in such circumstances and it is not in the best interest of minor children for them to be in detention for a period of about 78 days.'

The MDC information department released a statement which said: "Medical reports show that during his abduction and continued detention for charges of banditry and terrorism, two year-old Nigel was assaulted and denied food and medical attention by his captors."

His mother also said in an affidavit that at times she was not allowed to feed her child and that he was beaten up using a fan belt when he cried for food.

It is reported that the MDC officials who were handed the child on Tuesday were now frantically trying to locate his parents' relatives so that they can hand the baby over to them.

Scores of political and civic activists face different charges on issues linked to the alleged attempts to overthrow the Mugabe government.

One group, which includes Jestina Mukoko the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), is accused of facilitating the training of MDC activists as bandits. This group of 8 appeared in court on Wednesday and the matter is expected to continue on Thursday.

Another group, that includes MDC director of Security Chris Dhlamini and Ghandi Mudzingwa, former aide to Morgan Tsvangirai, is facing allegations of bombing trains and police stations. They are expected in the High Court also on Thursday for a bail hearing.

And another group, including Pascal Gonzo from the ZPP, is facing allegations of assisting some of the detainees to escape, or to evade arrest by the police.

The activists deny all the charges and say they were tortured into making confessions. The state has continued to defy court rulings to release the individuals for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, the new Attorney General, Johannes Tomana, is quoted in the state media saying he will oppose the release of Mukoko as she is a threat to society.

18 individuals including Mukoko are being held at Chikurubi, while at least 11 others are still missing.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights were making an urgent High Court application before Judge Alphas Chitakunye, seeking the immediate production, and release of those still missing.

Meanwhile the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that Mukoko be taken to a private clinic for treatment. Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku ordered that, 'the applicant must be afforded medical attention as a matter of urgency.' Several other judgments ordering the same have all been ignored by the authorities.

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