Harare, Zimbabwe (CNN)The mood was somber as magistrate Bianca Makwande read her bail ruling to three members of Zimbabwe's main opposition party.
Three activists say they were abducted by security forces after protesting. The government says they faked it, and put them in jail
"The state says they faked their abduction, and that cannot be ignored," Makwande said in court on Monday. "In that regard, bail is denied."
The women's family members, their Movement for Democratic Change Alliance supporters, their lawyers and human rights defenders, such as Amnesty International, were left shocked.
The trio -- Cecilia Chimbiri, member of parliament Joana Mamombe and Netsai Marova -- say they were abducted and sexually assaulted by unidentified government security agents after a protest last month in the capital Harare.
Zimbabwe's government says no abduction took place and that the women's claims are false.
After the women were released from what they say was their violent experience, state prosecutors visited the women in a private hospital where they were receiving treatment.
At the activists' bedsides, the prosecutors charged them with breaking coronavirus lockdown regulations that forbid gathering for protests, before the trio was taken to a remand prison. Last week the state added a separate charge related to telling "falsehoods" against the state.
After being refused bail on Monday, the three women are now back behind bars and awaiting trial.
"It is highly likely that if convicted, they will be given a stiff custodial sentence which may induce them to skip bail," Makwande said in her ruling.
Home Affairs Minister Kazembe Kazembe said in court last week that the state would offer evidence that the three opposition leaders worked with unnamed embassies and civic organizations to "fake abductions" after contravening the country's coronavirus lockdown.
Prosecutors presented still images from what they say is evidence that the women went shopping in Harare at the same time they claim they had been abducted. The prosecutors say they will provide the full video at the trio's trial.
A government information official told CNN that it will not comment further on the case as it is now in court.
State-controlled media reported on June 14 that the women (and other opposition figures) have been working with foreign embassies to cause unrest in Zimbabwe.
The women's supporters say the government's charges are a clear sign that the tactics of Zimbabwe's government have changed little since the ouster of the divisive longtime President Robert Mugabe.
"Be strong, I will be fine, mama," 31-year-old Chimbiri told her mother as she was led out of the courtroom.
Appearing to be in physical pain and close to tears, the three wore matching prison garb of red and white sweaters, green dresses and face masks as they were ushered out by female prison officials. One of them, 25-year-old Marova, was using crutches to walk.
The three are now being held in a maximum security prison, the facility where dissidents are often taken when they are arrested.
The trio is due back in court on June 26, and will possibly get a trial date then if investigations by the state are finished, according to their lawyer, Alec Muchadehama of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights group.
The women face a fine, or up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The women were demonstrating on May 13 to have President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government release grants to help citizens affected by Zimbabwe's Covid-19 lockdown that began in late March.
Lawyer Jeremiah Bamu, who is part of the women's legal team and also belongs to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said the women were stopped at a police roadblock after the demonstration, arrested and taken to Harare Central Police Station. It was there that they were abducted, said Bamu, but what happened next is unclear.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights spokesman Kumbirai Mafunda told CNN that the women were arrested at a police check point in Harare and then abducted on May 13, before reappearing in the village on May 15.
Mafunda said that after the women were dumped in the village they were given cell phones by locals so they could call friends and relatives, who then arrive