Pressure on the Zimbabwean authorities is mounting to release abducted ex-journalist and human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who was kidnapped at her home, writes our correspondent.

Mukoko is a former Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) news anchor who later became senior producer at the Netherlands’ radio Voice of The People (VOP).  She now heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project, an organization which documents human rights violations.

She was taken away on December 3 by 15 men who claimed they were police in Norton, 40 km outside the capital Harare. She has not been seen since she was bundled into a grey car while wearing pyjamas.

Her lawyers have so far failed to locate her at two police stations, prompting them to lodge an urgent High Court order seeking her release.

Harare based lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, who is handling the application on behalf of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said in the event that the police denied arresting Mukoko she would ask the court to order the law enforcement agency to probe the human rights activist’s disappearance.

"We have filed an application that she be produced because the people who took her said that they were police,” said Mtetwa. “If the police say they are not the ones who took her, as we know they will say, we are asking that they be compelled to investigate her disappearance as they ought to because this is a law and order issue. It’s their job to investigate something like this."

The court action comes as more pressure is piling on President Robert Mugabe and his government to release Mukoko.

Zimbabwe Civic Society leaders have written letters of appeal to South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and African Union chairman Jakaya Kikwete, asking for the immediate release of Mukoko and other human rights defenders.

They want an “immediate cessation of systematic purges and human rights violations by the current establishment and its security agents on human rights defenders”.

“This kidnapping is a blunt mockery of the global political agreement signed by Zimbabwean political parties on September 15 and shows the extent of the breakdown of the rule of law and insincerity of state authorities in Zimbabwe,” read the letter.

“This confirms the concern civil society in Zimbabwe has about the ability of the security services to act in the public interest and in an impartial manner.”

Mukoko was scheduled to be the master of ceremonies at the annual United States-sponsored Auxillia Chimusoro HIV and Aids Awards that were held on the day of her abduction.

The American Ambassador James McGee said: “We have been seeking frantically for Jestina and could not find her. What I want to say to anyone who abducted her, whether it is the army or police, release Jestina now. We need her to be released, now,” McGee said.

Prominent human rights groups such as the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined the growing chorus for the release of Mukoko.

Other groups, including the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa, Freedom House Southern Africa, Heinrich Boell Foundation Southern Africa and Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition called on regional leaders to pressure Harare to release Mukoko.

“We call on the South African government and other regional leaders to act decisively in the matter by demanding the immediate release of Jestina Mukoko and to further put pressure on the Zimbabwean government to abandon the use of terror and intimidation,” the groups said in a joint statement.

Mukoko’s ZPP has played a crucial role in monitoring and documenting politically motivated violence in Zimbabwe, building an archive of crimes that could be crucial in prosecuting perpetrators of human rights abuses in the future.