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MDC official dies in custody

[Zimbabwe] Morgan Tsvangirai, MDC Leader
Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai on the basis of a video secretly filmed by Ari Ben-Menashe (Obinna Anyadike/IRIN)

Zimbabwe's opposition party on Tuesday called for an independent investigation into the death in custody of Learnmore Jongwe, former spokesman and MP for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Jongwe, who was arrested three months ago for allegedly murdering his wife, was found dead on Tuesday morning in the prison where he was awaiting trial, state radio reported.

"We are extremely distressed by the death of Mr Jongwe. We have yet to ascertain the cause of his death. However, at this early juncture we have to bear in mind that Mr Jongwe was an opposition party MP. It is imperative that an independent investigation is carried out in the interest of transparency," MDC legal affairs secretary David Coltart told IRIN

Coltart added that the MDC has written to the attorney-general demanding that an independent pathologist carry out a post-mortem examination.

"If Mr Jongwe's death was due to natural causes or if he took his own life then the Mugabe [President Robert Mugabe] regime has nothing to fear from an independent investigation," Coltart said.

State radio quoted Commissioner of Prisons Paradzayi Zimonde as saying that a full investigation into Jongwe's death had already been launched.

But Department of Information senior press secretary Steyn Berejena refused to comment on the investigation. He said the department had not received "any reports from the police".

News of Jongwe's death came as a shock to teachers' union leader, Raymond Majongwe, who last saw the ex-MDC official on Monday afternoon.

"I am completely devastated. For three days we shared the same cell. Just yesterday we ate from the same plate. He was in a jovial mood. He did not complain of any pains or any illness. It is just shocking and a tragedy," Majongwe told IRIN.

On Monday a court dismissed fresh charges against Majongwe, the secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), for his role in a nationwide teachers' strike.

Last Friday, the attorney-general's office declined to press new charges against Majongwe but the police changed the accusations against him and kept him in jail over the weekend.

"On Monday at around 1 pm I left the Chikurubi prison. Learnmore asked if I could bring him a packet of cigarettes and some Mazoe [concentrated orange drink]. To learn that in a matter of hours something could of happened to him is really worrying," Majongwe added.

Majongwe was freed on bail 10 days ago after reportedly being tortured while in police custody.

"I am a most recent victim of torture at the hands of this government. I was subjected to electric shocks in prison and the worst form of treatment. The UN should really take a look at this," Majongwe told IRIN.

The police accused Majongwe and other union leaders of visiting schools and intimidating teachers into following the strike call.

Earlier this month MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai called on the United Nations to investigate alleged human rights abuses in the country.

"The Mugabe regime, through the police force, has continued to defy provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several protocols to which Zimbabwe is a signatory, which clearly prohibit torture and other degrading treatment," the MDC said in a statement

Jongwe, a lawyer, handed himself over to police on 21 August, two days after fleeing his Harare home where the body of his wife, Rutendo, was found with multiple stab wounds.

He admitted stabbing his wife during a domestic row but denied intending to kill her. He was due to go on trial in the Harare High Court on 25 November.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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