Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has said the three MDC activists who said they were tortured 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," Ziyambi told the BBC.

The justice minister said it was important to remember that the women had been involved in an illegal protest.

"Firstly there is a pandemic, and the world over people are being told to stay home. They decide to break that. The lockdown has created an environment where they are no longer relevant. They wanted relevance. It is diversionary tactic and once they are discharged [from hospital] they must be arrested for breaking the law."

The women are now under police guard at a private Harare hospital.

The MP's condition is said to have deteriorated and she was in no condition to speak to the BBC.