HARARE, Zimbabwe – Twelve visibly wounded suspects accused of killing a police inspector have appeared in a Zimbabwe court, and their lawyer said they were tortured repeatedly by police in jail.
The group shuffled into the courthouse Friday afternoon, limping and handcuffed in pairs. Eight men and four women appeared with deep lacerations and welts on their legs and arms. They lifted their clothing to show the wounds. Several had swollen faces and bloodshot eyes. Suspect Tungamirai Madzokere testified in a statement that he had suffered internal injuries in beatings that police recorded on video cameras.
Defense lawyer Charles Kwaramba said that the suspects, members of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's former opposition party, were detained in a police crackdown in a western Harare township since the killing on Sunday.
He said members of the group were beaten with rifle butts and were punched and kicked all over their bodies. Police took turns assaulting them during nights in jail, sometimes jumping on and twisting their handcuffed wrists, he said.
Kwaramba also said police denied the suspects medical attention and free access to their attorneys.
Presiding Harare magistrate Shane Kubonera ruled that the group remain in custody and reappear in court June 17. Kubonera also ordered that they receive immediate medical attention and that investigations into the torture allegations be carried out by the office of Attorney General Johannes Tomana, the top state law officer.
Amid mounting tensions ahead of calls for elections this year, Tsvangirai's party denied involvement in Sunday's slaying outside a township bar. Police vowed they would avenge their colleague's death and hunt down "traitors" in the former opposition.
Human rights groups have long said that police and military loyal to President Robert Mugabe have committed human rights abuses and infringed on civil rights of those who do not support the longtime ruler.
Police had arrested 25 suspects in the murder of Inspector Petros Mutedza, 45, outside a bar in the Glen View township on Sunday. Police released 13 of the suspects for lack of evidence earlier Friday.
Prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba said Mutedza died from injuries received in a mob assault in the township, a stronghold of Tsvangirai's party, after the officer tried to stop an unauthorized political gathering where youths were wearing party T-shirts.
But witnesses said he also tried to confiscate the goods of street vendors operating from unlicensed market stalls and was also attacked and hit on the head with a chair.
A second police officer was hurt in the disturbances but was released from the hospital after treatment.
Police reinforcements and riot squads fanned out in the township since Sunday and conducted house-to-house searches of known supporters of the former opposition party. Residents said an unofficial curfew was imposed there.
On Thursday, ranking Tsvangirai aide Tendai Biti, who is also the finance minister, called for impartial, nonpartisan and professional investigations into Sunday's unrest. The police are generally seen as loyal to Mugabe, 87.
"This is the only way that the true perpetrators of this crime can be brought to book," Biti said.