Police block ailing Zimbabwe doctor from leaving country

A Zimbabwean doctor 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.”

The head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association, Dr. Peter Magombeyi, was freed last week after disappearing for several days. His 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 said more than 50 government critics and activists in Zimbabwe have been abducted this year alone.

Police stopped Magombeyi from leaving for treatment in neighboring South Africa on Tuesday even after a judge ruled he could travel outside Zimbabwe as he is not under arrest. He has been recuperating in a local hospital, and lawyers have said preliminary medical assessments show possible physical harm and psychological trauma.

Magombeyi’s lawyers now say police are violating the court order, and they worry his condition will deteriorate as the drama plays out. The doctor must stay in Zimbabwe until the police application to the court is resolved.

Police dismissed accusations that they are preventing the doctor from traveling, saying they are providing him with protection “for his own personal safety.”

In the court application filed Tuesday night, police said Magombeyi should remain at the hospital until he is fit to travel, adding that they also want to sort out his security while in South Africa.

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

Zimbabwe’s information minister, Monica Mutsvangwa, later told reporters that the doctor was not being held against his will, and she asserted that police had intervened on Tuesday after “15 unidentified individuals” tried to remove him 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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