told a Zimbabwe court on Monday that 70 suspected mercenaries charged
with plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea were planning to break out
of jail and would from now on be held in leg irons.
Lawrence Phiri said information was received about a plan to airlift
the men from Chikurubi Maximum Security prison on the outskirts of Harare
where the group have been held since their arrest on March 7.
The 70 men were detained at Harare International Airport almost two
months ago when their Boeing 727 stopped to refuel and pick up military
The Zimbabwean authorities claim they were on their way to join 15 suspected
mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea and charged with plotting
to overthrow the government of the oil-rich central African nation.
But the 70, most of whom are from South Africa, have said they were
on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work as security
guards at a diamond mine.
The court on Monday heard details of the alleged plan but journalists
were barred from attending the hearing.
"The information was that there were plans to spring the prisoners
out of Chikurubi," Phiri told the court in open session.
Phiri said the order to clamp the men back in leg irons came on Friday
"The authorities saw it fit that until further notice the prisoners
will be kept in leg irons," he said.
Defence lawyer Jonathan Samkange protested the move, saying "I'm
certainly not prepared to have the accused tried in leg irons".
"It is not
free and fair. I'm going to move that the prison officials be held in
contempt of court," Samkange said.
He said the court order allowing them to appear in court without shackles
was being "flagrantly disobeyed turning this place into a circus".
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