, HARARE, May 5 – Eighteen leading activists, including human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko, were detained Tuesday on charges of plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, their lawyer said.
Mukoko and the others appeared in court and were formally indicted on terrorism charges and immediately taken into custody.
"They’ve all been remanded in custody, 18 of them," lawyer Alec Muchadehama told AFP.
The activists had been released on bail only two months ago after being arrested and held in secret last year on various charges stemming from an alleged plot against Mugabe.
The group appeared in court early Tuesday for a scheduled remand hearing. The activists will go to trial in three separate cases, with Mukoko’s set to begin June 4.
Mukoko is the head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, which documented human rights abuses surrounding last year’s controversial elections.
She was taken from her home on December 3 by a dozen armed men who claimed to be police, according to fellow activists, and was not seen again until she appeared in court three weeks later.
She later told a court that authorities had beaten her on the soles of her feet during interrogations and she flatly denied charges that she had recruited militants to topple the government.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the other prisoners were detained under similar circumstances, including some who have been held since October.
Their fate has become a barometer for the success of the unity government, formed in February nearly a year after disputed elections, in which Mugabe’s party lost its parliamentary majority and was eventually forced to share power with his rival Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change.
The activists were released on bail after the unity government took office, but their fate has become a major sticking point in Zimbabwe’s efforts to rally international aid, with donors insisting that the charges be dropped as a gesture of Mugabe’s commitment to reform.