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Zimbabwe Party Leaders, Security Chiefs Sued by Former Detainees

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Human-rights activist Jestina Mukoko and 17 others are suing some of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's closest colleagues for $22 million, claiming they were kidnapped, tortured and illegally detained in 2008.

Zimbabwe human-rights activist Jestina Mukoko says she was abducted in her night clothes at dawn by a dozen security agents, shoved into an unmarked vehicle, and driven to a secret location.

At that time a group of 18 people - including a two-year-old boy picked up with his parents, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters, and some with no political connections - disappeared. They all claim in papers before the High Court they were held in secret locations and physically and mentally abused.

Mukoko was abducted just 10 weeks after former opposition leader, now prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai signed a political agreement that led to the unity government in February last year.

After an international outcry, Mukoko and other detainees were released to a hospital and she was charged with recruiting insurgents to overthrow Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe.

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled her arrest was illegal and ruled similarly for all the others now suing leaders and security chiefs of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF Party. The group of abductees is asking for $22 million in damages, charging the party officials are responsible for kidnapping and torture.

ZANU-PF Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, former Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, Police Commissioner Augustine Chihuri, security chief Happyton Bonyongwe, senior prison officers, policemen and security agents are among those facing trial on September 13.

The suit is being seen by political analysts and lawyers in Harare as a significant legal and political moment in Zimbabwe's 30 years of independence.

At the time of her abduction, Mukoko was documenting ZANU-PF violence against Mr. Tsvangirai's supporters before the June 2008 presidential run-off. A week before that poll Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew his candidacy after about 200 of his supporters were killed and hundreds injured by ZANU- PF militia.

The lawsuit will be heard by Judge George Chiweshe, who was chairman of the election authority that in 2008 delayed the presidential poll results for five weeks.

Mr. Mugabe recently appointed Chiweshe Judge President of the High Court without consultations with Prime Minister Tsvangirai, which Harare constitutional lawyer Derek Matyszak says was "illegal."

Article by Peta Thornycroft, VOA News