Authorities in Zimbabwe have detained four human rights campaigners on their return home from a foreign trip and seized their cellphones and laptops, lawyers said Tuesday.
"They were detained upon disembarking from a South African flight at Robert Mugabe International Airport last night and held for several hours without access to their lawyers," Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesman Kumbirai Mafunda said.
The men arrested late Monday were identified as George Makoni, 38, advocacy officer for the NGO Centre for Community Development Zimbabwe; Tatenda Mombeyarara, 37, co-ordinator for lobby group Citizens Manifesto; Gamuchirai Mukura, 31, executive director of Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development (COTRAD); and Nyasha Mpahlo, 35, governance officer at Transparency International Zimbabwe.
Lawyers were granted access to the four at Harare's central police station, five hours after the arrest, Mafunda told AFP.
Police could not be reached for confirmation and it was not clear where the four had come from.
Their arrest came days after state-owned daily The Herald ran a story claiming that "a group of shady organisations with links to the (main opposition) MDC-Alliance has been hard at work laying the groundwork for civil unrest to be unleashed next month."
The newspaper said some activists had attended a workshop on the Maldives archipelago that was conducted by a non-profit Serbian organisation, Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).
The paper also claimed that some members of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had earlier this month attended a workshop in Prague.
Several organisations mentioned by the newspaper dismissed the story as false and denied involvement in any plot against the government.
Zimbabwean authorities have in the past used brutal force including the use of live ammunition to crush dissent.
After protests in January triggered by a hike in fuel prices of more than 100 percent, President Emmerson Mnangagwa warned that authorities would target rights groups deemed to be anti-government.
Authorities blamed the protests on the MDC party and on non-governmental organisations that they said were backed by Western governments.
The civil society alliance Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition condemned the latest arrests.
"The police, government and state media have been colluding to criminalise the work of human rights defenders, laying unfounded allegations against civil society leaders as agents of regime change who want to topple the government," the coalition said in a statement.