By Peta Thornycroft
Convicted mercenary Simon Mann was seized from his tiny cell at the maximum-security prison Chikurubi in Harare in the early hours of Thursday and rushed to an Air Force security base near Harare International Airport.
He was briefly detained there before being deported to Equatorial Guinea - the oil-rich country whose dictatorial leader he was accused of trying to overthrow in an aborted coup in March 2004.
President Robert Mugabe's government delivered him to the potential horrors of Black Beach prison in Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo, while his lawyers were still appealing against his deportation.
Well-placed sources said that Obiang's government sent an aircraft to Harare to collect Mann hours after he lost an appeal against his deportation order in the Harare High court on Wednesday - and before his lawyers were able to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Mann's lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, on Friday accused the Zimbabwean authorities of illegally "abducting" Mann. Samkange then lost a legal bid to have Mann returned from Equatorial Guinea late on Friday.
High Court judge Alfas Chitakunye dismissed Samkange's application for Mann's extradition to be reversed and for him to be returned to Harare.
Mann has opposed the deportation order all along on the grounds that he would be tortured in Equatorial Guinea as other members of the coup plot allegedly have been.
"It is illegal. He has been abducted," said Jonathan Samkange, his lawyer.
"Deporting a person at night is not only mischievous but unlawful."
A new wing has been built at Black Beach jail and the regime says that conditions have improved since Amnesty International reported in 2005 that prisoners routinely starved to death. Nguema's regime has pledged to refrain from torturing or executing Mann.
But Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich dictatorship formerly ruled by Spain, has one of Africa's worst human rights records.
Mann, who served a four-year sentence in Zimbabwe for trying to buy weapons, made frantic efforts to avoid extradition. He once told his lawyer that if he was ever sent there, "I will be a dead man".
It is understood that Mann tried to resist being taken out of his Chikurubi cell around midnight on Wednesday.
Mann told the officials who had come to collect him that he had an appeal against his deportation pending at the Supreme Court. However the officials ignored his pleas and bundled Mann out of the prison under heavy security and took him to Manyame Air Force base.
He was on a plane to Equatorial Guinea by about 1am on Thursday morning.
Mann's lawyers are insisting that he should be returned to Zimbabwe because he was deported in violation of the law.
This was because they had given notice that they would file an appeal against High Court judge Rita Makarau's ruling on Wednesday upholding an earlier decision to deport him.
"Once Mann's lawyers had noted their intention to appeal at the Supreme Court, his deportation should have been stopped pending a decision of the higher courts," said one lawyer, who did not want to be named. Mann's lawyers will go to the Supreme Court on Monday to try to persuade the country's highest court to have him returned.
But that appears to be a futile exercise as Zimbabwe's Supreme Court is stuffed by Mugabe's cronies. The deal to have Mann deported was apparently struck between Mugabe and EG President Teodoro Obiang Nguema when the two leaders visited each other in their respective capitals last year.
Some observers believe that Mugabe has in effect sold Mann for oil as Equatorial Guinea has been helping bankrupt Zimbabwe with the precious commodity.
Nguema is a African leader of the old school. In power since a coup in 1979, he has built an adulatory personality cult. State radio has declared Nguema a "god" who is "in permanent contact with the Almighty" and "can decide to kill without anyone calling him to account and without going to hell".
Some reports - unproven and unverifiable - suggest that Nguema might have been an occasional cannibal, in the mould of despots like Idi Amin in Uganda.
Equatorial Guinea is Africa's third biggest oil producer. Since the alleged plot was uncovered, Nguema has become an ally of President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, supplying Harare's cash-strapped regime with fuel.
British-born Mann, a former member of the British special forces and a mercenary, was living in Cape Town in 2004 when he allegedly hatched a plot with others Britons and South Africans to topple Obiang in a coup and replace him with exiled opposition leader Severo Moto.
But SA intelligence sources apparently got wind of the plan and tipped off the Zimbabweans.
When a chartered aircraft full of hired mercenaries landed at Harare airport in March 2004 to collect a consignment of arms which Mann had ordered from the Zimbabwe arms parastatal, Mann and about 70 other men were arrested.
A little later, in Malabo, the South African ex-mercenary Nick du Toit and several other South African and foreign accomplices, were also arrested.
The Du Toit group was tried in Malabo and convicted of planning a coup to be launched when Mann and his men arrived on the island in their chartered aircraft loaded with weapons.
Du Toit was sentenced to 34 years in prison and the others were given lesser sentences. Most are still sitting in Black Beach prison where they claim to have been tortured.