26 Dec 2008

Zimbabwean judge orders activists' release

9:18 am on 26 December 2008

A Zimbabwean High Court judge has ordered the immediate release of 32 activists, who are charged with plotting to overthrow President Robert Mugabe's government.

The activists include the human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko, who was picked up at gunpoint in Harare on 3 December.

If found guilty, the activists could face the death penalty.

Nine of them will be taken to hospital for treatment and allowed access to lawyers and relatives.

Lawyers said there are allegations the activists have been tortured.

The activists were brought to a tightly secured court in the capital, Harare. They include a husband and wife and their two-year-old child.

The state-run Herald newspaper said the activists are accused of recruiting or attempting to recruit people for military training to topple the government.

Citing a police statement, it said some of the activists had recruited people for training in Botswana, including a police constable.

It said the plan was to "forcibly depose" Mr Mugabe's government and replace it with one headed by Morgan Tsvangirai.