Yeserday I reported that Human Rights Activist Jestina Mukoko and 17 others, mainly members of the opposition party, had been rearrested and denied bail for the “crime” of “treason”.

This resulted in a huge international outcry. The original arrests occurred last December,when many were abducted by unknown abductors, and only after one month was it admitted that they had been arrested.

Most observers saw the abductions/arrests as President Mugabe’s attempt to silence those who had collected evidence on violence during the elections.

But why rearrest them?

Maybe as a way for President Mugabe to reassure “hardliners” of the  ZANU-PF (many of whom had committed crimes ) that they would be safe.

Or maybe it was merely a way to show the opposition MDC that he is still the boss, and will protect those guilty of human rights abuses from trial, even if it means the destruction of the previous agreement to share power with the opposition MDC lead by Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai, who is a soft spoken gentleman, has been less than forceful in confronting President Mugabe, perhaps because he knows that such a confrontation would lead to more violence against MDC supporters by a President who runs the Army, police, and a youth militia.

SWRadioAfrica reported that Biti, who is Finance minister and also the Secretary General, gave the Mugabe government an ultimatum that the activists be released by Monday, or that he would refer the problem back to the SADC, who is monitoring the agreement.

But the Mugabe government lamented about the ultimatum, perhaps because they worry that Tsvangirai will start demanding that a lot of other unsolved issues (such as the many unfilled government positions and the arrest of Agriculture secretary Bennett) being stonewalled by the Mugabe government will start being similarly resolved under pressure.

Now reports are saying that Mugabe himself authorized the release of most of the activists (three who were charged with possessing explosives were not released) .

One would like to think that this small step back by Mugabe is a hint that he just might start cooperating with the power sharing agreement.

However, given his history, one doubts this is true. in my opinion, both the arrest and the release is probably only another ploy by Mugabe to intimidate the opposition, which was reversed when the huge international outcry suggested that newly promised aid might be stopped if such blatent human rights violations continued.

Indeed, as Violet Gonda writes, what this implies is that the rule of law has been replaced by the rule by fiat of the President, who can arrest and release people at his whim.

This bodes ill for the return of civil society if such actions are allowed.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is MakaipaBlog.

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