Zimbabwe's High Court in Harare on Tuesday ordered the release of six prisoners accused of plotting to overthrow Zimbabwe's president. The former army officers have been in prison since 2007 after being accused of planning to violently topple President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] and replace him with the country's defense minister, Emerson Mnangagwa. The court held it is apparent that the defendants should not have been detained [CNN report], and a declaratory order will be issued to that effect. The High Court had dismissed the case in July because the defendants were held in custody without being brought to trial for more than six months, the limit imposed by law. The dismissal resulted in a re-indictment by prosecutors, but the defendants appealed to have the re-indictment thrown out At this time the state has not announced whether it plans to pursue the matter further. In Zimbabwe treason is punishable by death.
In March a Zimbabwe magistrate court ordered six of 45 activists arrested in Harare detained on charges of treason [JURIST report], releasing the remaining 39. The six activists not released will stand for the treason charges against them. The charges and subsequent arrests stem from the activists' attendance at a lecture on February 19, where footage of the widespread protests in Egypt [JURIST report], which resulted in the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile], was shown. Defense lawyers maintain they were participating in an academic debate on African politics while prosecutors contend they were engaged in a discussion regarding the possibility of an ouster of Mugabe. In making its decision, the court considered the activities each engaged in and held that the majority of them could be released as they had merely listened to allegedly treasonous utterances, in contrast with the other six who had organized and spoken at the meeting.