Six political activists remain behind bars in Zimbabwe as the government there continues to consider charges that they were plotting Egyptian- and Tunisian-style protests against long-time President Robert Mugabe. The evidence against them: they were caught watching television.
In all, 46 people were arrested in the capital Harare on February 19th for taking part in an illegal political meeting. A former Member of Parliament, students, trade unionists and other members of civil society without access to cable television or the Internet had gathered peacefully to watch DVD discs of news reports on the popular protests earlier this year that forced the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt to step down.
A spokesman for the group said they met to learn more about and discuss recent events in northern Africa. Authorities, however, said the meeting was to incite and motivate an attempt to overthrow the government, and arrested the participants en masse. While the magistrate released most of the detainees on March 7 for lack of evidence, six remain in jail facing treason charges and possible execution.
The United States is greatly concerned about these and other arrests targeting political and civil society activists. Lawyers for some of those being held say some were abused and tortured. We call on the government to provide medical care for those who need it and if torture occurred, to take immediate action to hold those involved accountable.
Zimbabwe is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As such, the government has an obligation to uphold and ensure the peaceful right of assembly, freedom of expression and opinion, and protection from arbitrary arrest or detention. The United States calls on the government of Zimbabwe to uphold those rights and ensure due process for those arrested.