Judge says once-abducted Zimbabwe doctor can leave country

U.S. & World

Zimbabwe riot police sit outside the hospital in Harare, Wednesday Sept. 25, 2019, where the head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association Dr. Peter Magombeyi is currently receiving medical care. Magombeyi who is desperate to leave the country for medical treatment after his recent abduction has been blocked after police approached the High Court asserting he is “unfit to travel”. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A Zimbabwean doctor desperate to leave the country for medical treatment after his recent abduction is now free to go after a High Court judge dismissed an effort by police to stop him, a lawyer said Wednesday.

Alec Muchadehama confirmed the judge’s decision after police had argued that the head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, Dr. Peter Magombeyi, was “unfit to travel.” Police on Tuesday had swarmed the hospital where he was recuperating and blocked him from leaving for neighboring South Africa, even though a judge had ruled he could travel.

Magombeyi’s alleged abduction after leading a pay strike led to days of protests by health workers and expressions of concern by diplomats and rights groups, who say more than 50 government critics and activists in Zimbabwe have been abducted this year alone.

Lawyers have said preliminary medical assessments of the doctor show possible physical harm and psychological trauma during his disappearance. Magombeyi’s lawyers have worried that his condition would deteriorate as the drama played out.

It was not clear whether the doctor would immediately be released from custody. “He is still in hospital under police guard,” Muchadehama said, adding that lawyers were working on serving the judge’s order Wednesday night.

Police had dismissed accusations they were preventing the doctor from traveling, saying they were providing him with protection “for his own personal safety.” In their court application filed Tuesday night, they said Magombeyi should remain at the hospital until they could sort out his security while in South Africa.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a non-governmental group helping the doctor, described the police statements as “shocking.”

Zimbabwe’s information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, later asserted that police had intervened after “15 unidentified individuals” tried to remove the doctor from his hospital bed.

“The police are keen to apprehend the alleged abductors,” she said. She also repeated government doubts that the doctor had been abducted in the first place.

The government has bristled at the accusations of abductions of critics and activists, with President Emmerson Mnangagwa and other officials over the weekend warning against so-called “false” abductions they assert are meant to make the government look bad. Mnangagwa is attending the United Nations annual gathering of world leaders this week.

Zimbabwe’s health sector, like its economy, is in crisis. Many services are unavailable due to collapsed infrastructure, lack of medicines or unavailability of doctors and nurses who say they can no longer afford transport to return to work.

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