A Harare magistrate’s court on Friday released 31 leaders and supporters of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions and opposition Movement for Democratic Change who were arrested Wednesday in the capital as they tried to lead a protest march by workers dissatisfied with wages and plunging living standards.
But ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibhebhe remained under police guard at Harare's Parirenyatwa Hospital where he being treated for injuries allegedly sustained under police beatings and torture. Chibhebhe and 14 others were allegedly tortured at Matapi police station, in the densely populated southern suburb of Mbare.
The treatment of the labor leaders drew criticism from Britain's Foreign Office.
Lord Triesman, minister for Africa, said Zimbabweans suffering from economic decline "caused by flawed policies” have the right to demonstrate peacefully. He urged Harare to initiate a national dialogue with civic groups and the political opposition to begin a fundamental and sustainable program of reform based on “national consensus.”
ZCTU lawyer Alec Muchadehama told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that after obtaining the release of the 31 union and political activists, he was seeking Chibhebhe's release late Friday on the strength of a court order.
The Harare High Court ordered police to release Chibhebhe if they failed to bring him to court on Friday. In fact, Chibhebhe's condition precluded his court appearance.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said authorities were aware of the allegations of torture at Matapi police station, and that an investigation was under way.
Doctors at Parirenyatwa Hospital confirmed that the union leaders appeared to have been were tortured while in police detention. Asking not to be named, the doctors said police from Matapi brought 15 labor leaders to the hospital Thursday night.
Medical sources quoted examination reports indicating that Chibhebhe was in serious condition. His ulna or forearm bone was fractured and finger bones were fragmented. The doctors said Chibhebhe had to be sedated so his finger bones could be set. A surgeon urged Chibhebhe be admitted because he also had a head laceration.
ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo and union vice president Lucia Matibenga also sustained fractures, but were released from the care of the hospital.
Dr. Reginald Matchaba-Hove, a physician and the founder of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network, was at the hospital when the trade unionists were treated and gave reporter Blessing Zulu an account of the medical care provided to the labor leaders.