Top Zimbabwe rights activists went to court on Monday to fight charges that they plotted to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, on the day the country's cholera death toll rose above 1,500.
Jestina Mukoko, head of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, and eight others -- including a two-year-old boy also detained in a prison cell -- were taken to a Harare magistrates' court to counter the charges that they recruited or incited people to undergo military training to fight Mugabe's government.
The hearing was delayed as the prosecutor did not immediately turn up.
Last week, police ignored a high court ruling ordering the transfer of the activists to hospital. Defence lawyers said they may have been tortured in custody but the government has appealed against the ruling.
Mukoko's group recorded cases of alleged violence against supporters of opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in this year's contested elections.
Mukoko was seized from her home on December 3 by armed men who identified themselves as police.
Two members of her staff were taken away from their office days later. They have been accused together with 28 members of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party of recruiting anti-government plotters.
The detainees, including the two-year-old boy, identified as Nigel Mutemagawu, were taken from their homes and some from their workplaces.
The MDC insisted on Sunday that the abductions and detention of its supporters would further hamper stalled talks with the ruling party on forming a unity government.
Mugabe and his rivals from the MDC signed a power-sharing deal in September in Harare but negotiations to form a unity government have stalled as the two sides squabble over key cabinet posts.
The crisis has added to the woes of the country suffering from the world's highest inflation rate, last estimated at 231 million percent in July, and a cholera epidemic that has now claimed 1,564 lives since August, according to new UN figures.
The death toll has risen from 1,174 while the number of cases has shot up to 29,131 from 23,712, according to the World Health Organization.
Harare remains the worst-hit region, with 330 deaths and 9,916 suspected cases, said the WHO.
South Africa on Monday reversed a block on aid to Zimbabwe because of the worsening humanitarian crisis.
"We have now reviewed our earlier decision in view of the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in that country. We have now started sending the aid to Zimbabwe" through the Southern African Development Community (SADC), presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe told AFP.
The SADC also demanded that the two sides in the Zimbabwe dispute immediately implement an agreed power-sharing deal.
"Again, the SADC's position is that the Zimbabwean parties, without any further delay, implement the agreement that they signed in September," added Masebe, spokesman for President Kgalema Motlanthe, who is chairman of the 15-nation bloc.
A recent SADC summit in Johannesburg called for the immediate formation of a unity government and the sharing of the home affairs ministry, which oversees the police, between the ruling ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC.
"And the first step towards implementing that agreement is the appointment of the prime minister and vice prime minister," he said in an interview on public broadcaster SA FM.
A power-sharing agreement, brokered by former South African president Thabo Mbeki, has been undermined by squabbling over the sharing of key posts.
The MDC said Sunday that an "equitable" sharing of powerful ministries and the resolution of other outstanding political issues held the key to the formation of a unity government.
"We have identified several key ministries which we want shared equitably. It is not about home affairs only, as ZANU-PF falsely claims, and it is not going to be resolved by sharing one ministry as SADC suggested," said MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa.