In a welcome act, the Zimbabwean government has allowed the release of a number of detainees on bail in the last week. Jestina Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, and the others who were abducted from their homes and workplaces at the end of 2008 still face trumped up charges of plotting to train fighters to commit acts of sabotage in Zimbabwe.
During their prolonged detention, they were denied access to their lawyers and medical care for extended periods of time. Their release on bail allows them to return to their homes and families after as many as 4 months of imprisonment.
The Mugabe government's harsh treatment of its critics and opponents is well documented, and such arrests are as much intended to intimidate others as to punish the prisoners themselves. Even with the recent release of prisoners besides Ms. Mukoko, dozens of political activists and others are still are held in Zimbabwe's jails on politicized charges, including Roy Bennett, the Deputy Minister of Agriculture Designate.
Two views then may be taken of these recent developments.
The political view could be that the activists’ bail is a sign Mr. Mugabe is acting in good faith with his new partners in the nation's unity government, including Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and others of the Movement for Democratic Change who long opposed him.
It also will appeal to the international community, which has demanded all political prisoners be freed and last year's power sharing agreement be fully implemented before providing anything more than humanitarian aid for the troubled country.
The legal view, though, is much simpler: Ms. Mukoko and the others should never have been abducted, arrested or detained in the first place and their release, even on bail pending court action, is long overdue.
In sum then, the release of Zimbabwe's political prisoners is always a positive sign, but many more are still in jail and the United States urges that they be released without delay.