A Zimbabwean court on Wednesday ruled that a leading human rights campaigner and 15 other activists should remain in custody pending a remand hearing in a case that has deepened doubts over a power-sharing deal. Jestina Mukoko, head of a local rights group, and the other activists have been charged with recruiting or trying to recruit people to undergo military training to topple President Robert Mugabe’s government.

zim-court“The accused cannot be released at this stage, this is a proper case for (a) remand hearing,” said Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe. The activists will appear in court next Monday for a bail hearing. Their arrests have fuelled political tensions in Zimbabwe, where a protracted deadlock on cabinet posts under a September power-sharing deal has dashed hopes that a new leadership would move to tackle an economic crisis.

Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai has threatened to pull his party out of negotiations over the issue. Two activists facing lesser charges were ordered to be released in line with a High Court ruling last week but state prosecutors said they would appeal the decision.

Thirteen of the activists who will remain in custody are MDC members. Two are colleagues of Mukoko, a former state television broadcaster who has emerged as one of Mugabe’s toughest and most influential critics. She was taken away at gunpoint at dawn in Harare on December 3 by a group of plain-clothes men who stormed her house and identified themselves as policemen.



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