Two dozen Zimbabwean opposition activists, including a lawmaker arrested at the weekend when police raided the house of an MP for alleged unlawful gathering, were in court Monday seeking bail.
The hearing which continues Tuesday, was marked by a media blackout as the country gears up for crunch national elections expected later this year.
A tense atmosphere prevailed at the magistrates’ court in the capital Harare where journalists were harassed and most barred from covering proceedings by armed anti-riot police officers, an AFP correspondent said.
Officers armed with AK47 assault rifles, teargas canisters and batons shoved reporters away, with one ordering them to “leave the court building or get injured”.
Only two journalists from state-run media were allowed access into the courtroom.
Police should “not selectively apply their directives to some journalists while excluding others,” warned the media watchdog MISA-Zimbabwe.
One of the lawyers for the arrested Kudzai Kadzere, said he was assaulted by anti-riot police as he approached a police station where the 25 activists were held on Saturday. He suffered a fractured arm.
The attack is “a new low for Zimbabwe and we are deeply disappointed that of all people, the police who have a constitutional obligation to protect the rights of all citizens have taken a front row seat to violating the same,” the Law Society of Zimbabwe said in a statement.
Those arrested are members of the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC, the largest opposition party led by Nelson Chamisa.
They were arrested on Saturday while holding a private meeting at the residence of one lawmaker in a Harare township.
Among those arrested is an 83-year-old 72-year-old man and a 17 year old girl.
Rights groups and opposition parties have complained of an increased government clampdown on dissent with general elections due this year.
“It’s an arrest that was calculated to persecute our members,” party spokeswoman Fadzayi Mahere. “We are continuing to see an escalation of political violence… “
“We want elections, we don’t want war. This doe not bode well for a free and fair election,” she told reporters outside the court.