Activists bailed in Zimbabwe after airport arrest

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Five Zimbabwean rights campaigners arrested last month and charged with subversion after returning from abroad were released on bail Friday, lawyers said.

The five were among a group of seven arrested at Harare airport on arrival from the Maldives, where police allege they attended a workshop on how to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

“The five human rights defenders have been set free after being granted bail by high court judge Justice Tawanda Chitapi,” Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) spokesman Kumbirai Mafunda said.

“They were granted bail of $1,000 each, accompanied by stringent conditions including reporting every day to a police station.”

Their arrest came after state-owned daily, The Herald, ran a story saying that “a group of shady organisations with links to the (main opposition) MDC-Alliance has been hard at work laying the groundwork for civil unrest.”

Police say the activists attended a workshop in the Maldives conducted by a non-profit Serbian organisation, the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).

After protests in January triggered by a hike in fuel prices of more than 100 percent, Mnangagwa warned that authorities would target rights groups deemed to be anti-government.

Authorities blamed the protests on the MDC party and non-governmental organisations that they said were backed by Western nations.

Zimbabwe’s police and army have regularly used brutal force, including the use of live ammunition, to crush dissent.