Journalist returned to custody despite torture allegations

New York, January 9, 2009–Zimbabwean photojournalist Anderson Shadreck Manyere, who was arrested on December 24, was remanded in custody today by a court in Harare despite allegations that he was tortured while in police detention, according to local journalists. Manyere is expected to return to court on January 23. 

Defense lawyer Alec Muchadehama had asked magistrate Olivia Mariga on Thursday to defer the court proceedings pending the outcome of an appeal filed with the High Court calling for medical treatment for Manyere, the Media Institute of Southern Africa reported.

Manyere and seven alleged opposition party activists were charged with banditry in contravention of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and could face the death penalty if convicted, local journalists told CPJ. The state accused the eight suspects of participating in bombings last year at the Criminal Investigation Department Headquarters in Harare and a botched bombing of a highway bridge and railroad line west of Harare.

The state further claimed that they found 48 rounds of ammunition at Manyere’s home. Manyere denied the claims in court and accused the police of stealing his journalism equipment from his home during his absence. “The [only] ammunition I know is my camera, a laptop and some tapes which they took during my absence,” he said in court. Manyere told the court he had been abducted and unaware of his whereabouts for nine days.

On Thursday, Mariga ordered the attorney general’s office to order the police to investigate the torture allegations and report their findings at the January 23 court date, according to local journalists.

“Sending Manyere and the others back to the police accused of torturing them is outrageous,” said Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator. “It is even more galling to suppose that those accused of torture will adequately investigate themselves. Manyere needs medical treatment and must be released immediately.”  

According to the Zimbabwean Lawyers for Human Rights, Manyere’s interrogation was accompanied by torture and he was forced to make confessions on camera. He is currently being held in solitary confinement at Chikurubi Prison in Harare, a maximum security facility. Since Wednesday, Manyere has only been allowed one medical examination in the presence of two prison officers and he has not been allowed any treatment at an adequately equipped medical facility, the lawyers association said.

The state argued that the prison clinic has trained staff for any medical requirements, according to wire reports. A medical examiner revealed in court January 6 that Manyere suffers from hypertension. Doctor Ruth Harava said Manyere had received blows to the head and urgently needed an x-ray.

Manyere went missing on December 13 in Norton, 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of Harare until his appearance in court on December 24 along with former journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko. Mukoko will remain in police custody until January 14 despite a high court order on December 24 to transfer her to a hospital to receive treatment for alleged torture, according to local news reports.

Journalists were relentlessly harassed during this year’s presidential elections in May and June, CPJ found in its report “Bad to Worse in Zimbabwe.”