Mukoko Recounts CIO Torture Ordeal

STATE secret service agents allegedly assaulted, tortured and detained human rights activist Jestina Mukoko in solitary confinement for 19 days to coerce her to admit recruiting youths for military training in Botswana to dislodge President Robert Mugabe from power.

In an affidavit lodged with the High Court narrating events that took place after Mukoko was abducted in the early hours of December 3 from her Norton home, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) director said her captors wanted to link her to the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC.

The government claims that the MDC is recruiting youths to undergo military training in Botswana in a move orchestrated to topple Mugabe.

Minister of State for National Security Didymus Mutasa has since admitted in the High Court that Mukoko was in the custody of the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO).

In the damning affidavit, Mukoko claimed she was kidnapped by six men and a woman who did not identify themselves and was denied access to her spectacles and prevented from dressing.

“I was not wearing anything other than a night dress,” she said. “I had no undergarments and other personal and medical requirements.”

The former television news anchor alleged that she was forced by the state spies into a Mazda Familia vehicle and ordered to lie low on the seat of the car.

“Immediately a woollen jersey was put across my face, covering my eyes, nose and mouth (and) as a result I had problems breathing and almost suffocated,” Mukoko said.

She said the vehicle drove off in what she suspected to be the Harare direction for about 40 minutes before reaching its destination.

By then, Mukoko claimed, she was disoriented.

She said a woman among the CIO operatives gave her a pair of plastic sandals and a dress and was kept for an hour before being taken to an interrogation room.

In the room, Mukoko said, a female agent asked her male compatriots to leave and provided her with underwear.

“I could not see the outside world through the windows. I was not allowed to look outside,” she alleged. “Every time that I wanted to use the ablutions, I had to knock for a lengthy time and someone would come and had to cover my eyes with a blindfold and lead me to the toilet.”

Mukoko alleged that on the first day of the kidnapping she was interrogated by five men and a woman who wanted to know more about the ZPP, its board members, founding organisations of the project and where it was located.

“Soon thereafter the line of questioning changed and I was now being accused of recruiting youths to undergo some form of military training and links with people at Harvest House (MDC headquarters). I denied the allegations.”

The beatings then started.

“Firstly I was assaulted underneath my feet with a rubber-like object which was at least one metre long and flexible, while seated on the floor. Later I was told to raise my feet onto a table and the other people in the room started to assault me underneath my feet,” Mukoko alleged. “This assault lasted for at least five to six minutes. They took a break and then continued again with the beatings.”

Mukoko said she was further interrogated and asked if she knew of a police officer, Ricardo Washeni, who visited ZPP offices late last year.  

She said she replied in the affirmative and told the CIO operatives that she referred Washeni to Broderick Takawira, a ZPP official.

Mukoko said that she was also asked about the people she knew at the MDC.

The interrogators allegedly took a break and returned a few hours later and “were all visibly drunk”, and some of them started assaulting her and at the same time grilling her, she said.

Mukoko said she was questioned about her connections with the Counselling Services Unit  and in particular Fidelis Mudimu, a nurse at the unit.

Mudimu was also accused of recruiting youths for military training.

On December 6 Mukoko said her captors provided her with new undergarments and sanitary pads before she was blindfolded and bundled into a car and driven for about two hours to an unknown destination.

At that destination, about 10 people who were introduced to her as law officers interrogated her.

One of the interrogators, Mukoko alleged, told her that she was going to suffer and had to make a choice of either becoming a state witness in the military training case or “become extinct” as no prosecutions would take place.

The ZPP boss said she was also grilled on her meeting with the Elders — former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, ex-United States president Jimmy Carter, and children’s ambassador Graca Machel — in South Africa in November.

The Elders were barred from entering Zimbabwe on a humanitarian mission by the government and ended up meeting political parties and civic organisations in South Africa to get an appreciation of the humanitarian crisis in the country.

Mukoko claimed that the interrogators told her that they were not bound by the law stipulating that any accused person should appear in court within 48 hours of his or her arrest.

After the gruelling encounter with the interrogators, Mukoko was returned to the detention room and kept in solitary confinement until December 8 when she learnt that Takawira and another employee of the ZPP, Pascal Gonzo, were also abducted and were being interrogated.

The same day, Mukoko claimed, she was questioned and told that one of her officers at ZPP had confessed that Mudimu worked with the organisation.

Five days later, Mukoko said she was asked to sign a statement, which among other things, narrated the ZPP staff retreat to Botswana, including the names of individuals they met in the country.

“The interrogators also compelled me to disclose in the statement all the names of the board members of ZPP and staff members. I listed all. The last part of the statement wanted me to agree to knowing and recruiting this ex-police officer Ricardo Washeni (which) I denied,” Mukoko said.

She claimed that at that point one of the interrogators went out of the room and returned with gravel which he spread onto the floor and asked her to pull up her clothes and kneel on the gravel.

“The interrogations continued whilst I was kneeling on the gravel,” Mukoko alleged.

On December 14, a medical doctor examined Mukoko after she had complained that her allergies were getting worse. She was also further interrogated on the ZPP retreat to Botswana and her connection to Mudimu.

She claimed that she was forced to give evidence on camera.

Eight days later, Mukoko’s captors handed her over to the police Law and Order section’s Chief Superintendent Magwenzi at Braeside Police Station before she was blindfolded and driven to Highlands Police Station and later Matapi.

On December 23 the police recorded a warned and cautioned statement from her on camera and she was told for the first time that she was facing charges of attempting to recruit people for military training.

She was later taken to her Norton home where the police searched for her laptop and after failing to find it, seized an old computer, audio tapes from her past work as a journalist and computer information storage disks.

For the first time in 21 days she saw members of her family.

The following day she was taken to court and charged with eight other MDC activists.

 
Her lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa, then approached the High Court and Justice Yunus Omerjee ordered the immediate release of Mukoko and her co-defendants on the basis of a previous court order declaring their detention for more than 48 hours illegal.

The state appealed against Omerjee’s order to the Supreme Court and Mukoko and her co-accused were kept in custody.  

On Tuesday, Mukoko lodged an urgent application in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of her continued detention on charges of plotting to overthrow the government.

BY CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE