A Zimbabwean magistrate on Monday ordered police to open a fresh probe into allegations by 31 members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change that they were tortured and seriously beaten while in police custody.
Harare Magistrate Gloria Takundwa had earlier asked police to look into the charges that activists were abused after some appeared in court with wounds and bruises. Police presented a report Wednesday exonerating themselves of the charges.
The magistrate ordered a new investigation but set no date for its completion.
The police report said allegations could not be substantiated and recommended that the matter be put to rest, according to sources familiar with the document.
Though the victims said can positively identify the police officers who assaulted them police argued that it would not be possible to organize such a procedure.
“An identification parade could not be carried out because the police officers who were involved in the operation were too many - 2,500 in number having been drawn from 29 police stations within (Harare) province,” said the police report.
The report also said there were no direct or independent witnesses to substantiate the allegations and that it was possible the allegations had been fabricated.
The report additionally found it "clearly evident that some of the accused persons who alleged that they were assaulted could have been injured during skirmishes with the police in previous disturbances" in which those alleging abuse were "ringleaders."
The document said that most of those alleging official brutality "are no strangers to the police and have previously been arrested by the Central Investigation Department Law and Order Section," adding that “This is the reason why they stated the fictitious names of the police officers in their allegations."
The 31 were arrested at the height of a police crackdown on opposition members that began in March. They have been accused of terrorism and sabotage in connection with a spate of firebombings of police stations and various civilian targets.
Harare attorney Alec Muchadehama, who has been representing the detained MDC activists, asserted to reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the Zimbabwean police were trying to cover up gross human rights abuses.
Elections Secretary Ian Makone of the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, who was granted bail and released Wednesday, said he was disheartened by the police findings as he alleges he was tortured at Harare Central Police Station.
The alleged torture victims include Glen View parliamentarian Paul Madzore, activist Philip Mabika, now having difficulty walking, Piniel Denga, said to have lost some of his hearing, Morgan Komichi and Shame Wakatama.
Last year leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, including ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibebe, charged that were also assaulted while in police detention. Chibebe and other union officials tried to lead a protest against the economic crisis. But police ordered to investigate the allegation rejected the charges. Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena said then that the police investigation had found no evidence of torture, and that "the unionists who had bruises, sustained them while resisting arrest during the demonstrations."
He said those with injuries "received them after jumping from moving police vehicles, after being arrested, and our officers only used minimum force to re-arrest them."