Lawyers for 46 people facing treason charges for allegedly plotting an Egyptian-style uprising in Zimbabwe said on February 24 that some members of the group were tortured by police.

Defence lawyer Alec Muchadehama told a Harare court that 12 suspects told lawyers they were beaten with broomsticks on their bodies and the soles of their feet. They were arrested on February 19 for attending a lecture on North African anti-government protests.

He said others were denied medication and access to lawyers. Treason can be punishable by death.

State prosecutors allege the group of labour and social activists held the meeting to plan a revolt against long-time authoritarian ruler President Robert Mugabe.

The group says the meeting on February 19 was an academic study session and denies wrongdoing.

Muchadehama told magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi that delays in bringing the group to their first court appearance on February 23 were illegal because Zimbabwean law says suspects must be arraigned within 48 hours of arrest.

Prosecutors allege the group watched videos of the Egyptian revolt that brought down Hosni Mubarak after nearly three decades in power. Prosecutors also claimed the Zimbabwean participants took turns making speeches calling for a revolt against Mugabe.

Muchadehama said there were no grounds for treason charges.

“What happened in Egypt and Tunisia is that people gathered and demonstrated and their leaders resigned or abdicated their seats,” he said. “No treason was committed in the two countries.”

But authorities loyal to Mugabe were “so paranoid,” he said, that anything seen to challenge Mugabe was termed treason and subversion.

Prosecutors claim that former opposition lawmaker Munyaradzi Gwisai, head of the local branch of the International Socialist Organization, and the other participants/civic activists were conducting the meeting to “organise, strategise and implement the removal of the constitutional government of Zimbabwe ... the Egyptian way.”

Mugabe has been in power since independence in 1980, and once declared in 2008 that “Zimbabwe is mine.”

Critics accuse him of violently suppressing opposition and destroying the country's economy through a land redistribution programme.

While he entered in a power-sharing deal with the country's long-time opposition leader after the violence-plagued 2008 elections, Mugabe has said he has the power to unilaterally call elections this year to end the fragile unity government.

Security authorities have said they will clamp down on any alleged plotters of “destabilisation.”

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