Zimbabwe’s justice minister has threatened to prosecute three female opposition members who allege they were arrested and then abducted from police custody and sexually assaulted.
They say they were beaten and forced to drink each other’s urine.
The three, including an MP, are being treated in hospital for their injuries.
Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said the women made up the story to divert attention from the fact that they broke lockdown rules by attending a protest.
They should be arrested for violating rules aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus, he said.
“I don’t believe the abduction is genuine,” Mr Ziyambi told the BBC.
Opposition activists allege that abduction and torture remains a tactic of the authorities even after the end the presidency of Robert Mugabe, who was overthrown in 2017.
Cecilia Chimbiri, who is a youth campaigner with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, has given graphic testimony to the BBC of how she, MP Joana Mamombe and Netsai Marowa, were maltreated over 24 hours by alleged state agents.
She said that they were stopped at a police checkpoint last Wednesday, as they were returning from a small protest march that they had organised in the capital, Harare, over the number of people going hungry during the coronavirus lockdown.
Two men in police uniforms stepped out an unmarked car, Ms Chimbiri explained, and told them that they were under arrest for flouting restrictions.
“They must have been following us,” she said.
They were then escorted in a convoy to a police station where they were told to get out of their car and into another vehicle as they had gone to the wrong place.
It was then that Ms Chimbiri said men in plain clothes got into the vehicle, pushed their heads down and drove them out of the basement car park.
‘Screaming inside the pit’
They were then driven to a location that she later learnt was about 120km (75 miles) north of Harare, where they were thrown into a pit dug into the earth outside and subjected to hours of beatings and sexual assault by five men, the activist said.
“I was praying and screaming inside the pit. At one point, I prayed for a swift death. I was in so much pain,” Ms Chimbiri told the BBC on the phone from her hospital bed.
The three were left on Thursday night at the roadside on the outskirts of Bindura town, north of the capital.