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Abducted journalist and rights activist appears in court, faces possible death penalty on terrorist plot charge

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the "unacceptable behaviour" of the Zimbabwean authorities in kidnapping journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko on 3 December 2008, holding her incommunicado and now accusing her and several other members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of a terrorist plot to overthrow President Robert Mugabe. She faces a possible death sentence.

"The accusations brought against Mukoko are absurd and baseless," Reporters Without Borders said. "We call on the Zimbabwean authorities to free her and withdraw all the charges at once. Coming after a series of kidnappings, the prosecution of these opposition activists has all the hallmarks of a government conspiracy to sabotage the power-sharing agreement."

The Zimbabwean police brought Mukoko and nine other human rights activists before a Harare court on 24 December on charges of organising a Zimbabwean police officer's trip to Botswana to receive military training there with a view to overthrowing Mugabe. Their lawyers, who have not been allowed to see them, said they risked being sentenced to death.

The ten activists are now being held in the Chikurubi high security prison despite a 24 December high court order that they be transferred to hospital. They are now being held under a pre-trial detention order that will require renewal on 29 December.

A former presenter for the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) and the privately-owned Voice of The People (VOP), Mukoko was kidnapped from her home in Norton (40 km west of Harare) at around 5:00 a.m. (local time) on 3 December by some 15 men in plain clothes. Thereafter, there had been no word of Mukoko until her court appearance. The police had said nothing, aside from denying any knowledge of her whereabouts.

Mukoko heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project, a human rights organisation that has provided constant information about this year's political violence in Zimbabwe, where some 200 supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC have been killed since the party's successful challenge to the ruling ZANU-PF in last March's general elections.

Refusing to recognise its defeat, the ruling party signed a power-sharing deal with the opposition in September but the two sides have failed to agree on its implementation, in particular the allocation of key ministries. Tsvangirai threatened to pull out of the deal earlier in December after a series of kidnappings of opposition activists.

Updates the Mukoko case:

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