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Zimbabwe Activists Freed on Bail - Again - Following Political Discussions

The same Zimbabwean magistrate who revoked the bail Tuesday of 18 activists, sending many of them to remand prison pending trial, on Wednesday reversed her decision leading to the release of the activists, political and legal sources said.

The re-arrest of the activists on Tuesday sparked a major crisis within the unity government as the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai considered the move to be evidence of bad faith on the part of its governing partner, President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.

A total of 18 activists were taken into police custody Tuesday after state prosecutors indicted them on terrorism and other charges. Government prosecutors say the activists, including a freelance journalist, conspired to overthrow Mr. Mugabe's former government.

News services quoted attorneys and officials as saying 15 of the activists were released on Wednesday while three others remained under guard in a clinic.

VOA sources confirmed the release of 13 people sent on Tuesday to Chirukubi Maximum Security Prison, among them Zimbabwe Peace Project Director Jestina Mukoko, who was abducted in December and later produced by police who launched the allegations.

Mukoko and about a dozen others were released on Wednesday afternoon when the office of the attorney general did not oppose the new granting of bail.

Defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama gave VOA reporter Patience Rusere an account of the events leading up to the release of the activists from the Chikurubi lockup.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Tsvangirai told VOA the activists were released after the principals in the unity government - Mr. Tsvangirai, President Mugabe and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara – agreed the activists should remain free on bail pending their eventual trial on charges of conspiring to overthrow Mr. Mugabe’s government.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement said the cases were politically motivated and that the charges should be dropped.

Attorney General Johannes Tomana told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the activists were sent back to jail on a technicality, and that he consented to new bail because none of them had absconded after they were first granted bail.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...