Harare - Munyaradzi Gwisai, a law lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, told a Harare magistrate he had endured “indescribable” pain inflicted by security agents and policemen to secure his “confession” that he plotted to overthrow President Robert Mugabe.

Gwisai and 45 other Zimbabwe human rights activists, academics and students, including 11 women, appeared in the Harare Magistrate’s Court on Thursday. They were arrested last weekend while attending a lecture titled “Revolt in Egypt and Tunisia. What lessons can be learnt by Zimbabwe and Africa”.

Part of the lecture included watching video news clips of the uprisings in North Africa.

Defence lawyer Alec Muchadahama, trying to have charges against them dropped, said he counted “about 10 defendants walking and sitting with difficulty when they came to court”.

He said: “We tried to get them admitted to hospital or be seen by a doctor but this was refused.”

Gwisai told magistrate Munamato Mutevedzi that he and five detainees were whip-lashed on their stomachs and beaten as police and security agents sought their confessions.

He said the pain was “indescribable, sadistic and a tragedy for Zimbabwe”.

Muchadahama told the court the arrest of the 46 was “unlawful” as they had not been informed why they were being detained. He said they were held in stinking police cells and only knew they were charged with treason minutes before they appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday.

After lengthy delays, the case was postponed until Monday when prosecutor Edmore Nyazamba will cross-examine Gwisai.

The detainees remain in custody.

Amnesty International Africa deputy director Michelle Kagari described the arrests as an “over-reaction” and an abuse of freedom of speech.

“The safety of detainees remains a serious concern as the Law and Order Section at Harare Central Police station has become notorious for the torture and ill-treatment of activists in their custody,” Kagari said. - Foreign Service