Remember Moyo, a burly man with sad, withdrawn eyes, was arrested on Nov. 11, 2001, and beaten repeatedly and savagely over the next several days. He was charged with murder.

The day after the arrest, Moyo said, police pummeled and stomped him by the side of a road. At a police station outside this southern city, he was stripped, his hands were tied behind his back and his feet were shackled to a metal ring hooked to a wet cell floor, he said. Several times, he said, thugs let themselves in at night and beat him bloody and mute.

"This thing, you cannot forget," said Moyo, who had been an intelligence official and bodyguard for Zimbabwe's main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. "You can try, but it just sticks."

The beating Moyo suffered and the murder charges against him and several other men were part of an attempt to cover up two killings ordered by officials of President Robert Mugabe's ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF, according to human rights activists, opposition members and church leaders. The case, they contend, underscores how Mugabe has used the law as a weapon against his political opponents.

Moyo, who spent more than two years in prison without bail, was released in April. On Monday, prosecutors acknowledged that they no longer had a case against Moyo and five others charged with him.

In the first years after white rule ended in Zimbabwe in 1980 and Mugabe assumed power, this landlocked southern African country of 12 million was largely regarded as a beacon of democracy and prosperity on a troubled continent. But in recent years, Mugabe's government has curbed the right to public assembly, shut down newspapers, expanded police authority to detain suspects without charges, put the main opposition leader on trial for treason and taken control of thousands of private farms.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have chronicled the decline of the rule of law, saying Mugabe uses the criminal justice system to punish his rivals and protect his allies, and that to oppose him is to invite false arrest, torture and even death.

"These people are innocent," said the city's outspoken Catholic archbishop, Pius A. Ncube. "That's what they do all the time in ZANU-PF. . . . We're dealing with such a devilish government here, all to defend one man: Robert Mugabe."

The government has consistently disputed such claims, blaming them on what it has termed treachery by its opponents, dishonest journalists and meddling from the British, the country's former colonial rulers. Mugabe and other officials have characterized Moyo and his co-defendants as terrorists out to undermine Zimbabwe's peaceful democratic system.

The roots of Moyo's case, as detailed by human rights activists and in court documents and news reports, can be traced to the national election in 2000. It was the first contest in many years in which Mugabe's party faced significant opposition -- from the Movement for Democratic Change, which had been formed the year before.

The new opposition drew support from human rights lawyers, farmers, civic activists and some former members of ZANU-PF. One of them was Patrick Nabanyama, a ZANU-PF activist who believed that the ruling party had grown corrupt. In the parliamentary race in June 2000, Nabanyama made a public break with the party and backed an opposition candidate, David Coltart, a white lawyer.

As the election neared, Nabanyama said he began receiving death threats. The culprits, he said, were so-called war veterans, a loosely organized force loyal to the government and consisting mostly, but not entirely, of former guerrillas in Zimbabwe's war against white rule in Rhodesia, as the country was then known, in the 1970s.

"I have been subjected to several death threats since last month by pseudo war vets," Nabanyama wrote in a letter dated June 19, 2000, addressed to the Daily News, an independent newspaper since closed by the government. "Killing me will not stop the change. Instead, MDC is daily gaining support."

That afternoon, before Nabanyama got a chance to mail the letter, a gang of men seized him at his house and bundled him into a waiting vehicle as his wife and daughter looked on.

The abduction initially drew little attention from authorities. But Coltart and other opposition members organized vigils to keep pressure on the government to investigate.

Over the next few months, authorities arrested 10 war veterans in connection with Nabanyama's disappearance, including Cain Nkala, a Mugabe loyalist and the local head of a war veterans association.

After Nabanyama had been missing for a year, prosecutors upgraded the charges to murder. Nabanyama's body has never been found.

As the trial date approached, reports reached opposition leaders that Nkala intended to implicate top officials from the ruling party in Nabanyama's killing. He never got the chance.

On Nov. 5, 2001, a gang abducted Nkala in much the same style that Nabanyama had been taken, bundling him into a waiting vehicle as his wife watched. Nkala has not been seen since.

Coltart, Archbishop Ncube and others said they believed that Mugabe's party was involved in Nkala's kidnapping, which they described as an attempt to eliminate him before he could implicate party leaders in the killing of Nabanyama.

But the police and the government put the blame for Nkala's disappearance on the Movement for Democratic Change. "The MDC and their supporters should know their days are numbered," Mugabe said at Nkala's funeral, according to news accounts. "The time is now up for the MDC terrorists, as the world has been awakened by the death of Nkala."

Moyo, now 36, was arrested as police began a highly publicized roundup of more than a dozen opposition activists in connection with Nkala's killing.

Two other opposition activists who were arrested in connection with Nkala's murder, Sazini Mpofu and Khethani Augustine Sibanda, were shown on state-controlled television seemingly directing police to Nkala's body, at a site a few steps off a road outside the city. The grave was so shallow and obvious that Nkala's toes stuck through the dirt.

Prosecutors charged Moyo, Mpofu, Sibanda and three other opposition activists with Nkala's murder. Court proceedings began soon afterward, and remained front-page news in Zimbabwe for the next 21/2 years.

But in court, where some independent judges remain even after years of Mugabe's efforts to consolidate power, the government's case began to unravel.

Mpofu and Sibanda said police threatened and beat them, then dictated confessions that the two were forced to write and sign. Sibanda said agents from the Central Intelligence Organization had abducted him and compelled him, through torture and threats, to participate in a plot to frame the others for the murder.

Cross-examination of police officers also revealed numerous inconsistencies in their accounts, according to a ruling in March by the trial judge.

Perhaps the most damning was the inability of police to explain why their own investigation diary recorded that Sibanda supposedly pointed out the location of Nkala's body to police hours before the diary showed he was taken into custody. The trial judge rejected police explanations that the illogical diary entries were merely mix-ups.

The diary also revealed that officials from ZANU-PF and Mugabe's office directly intervened in the case to deliver intelligence two days after Nkala's disappearance. That same afternoon, police raided opposition headquarters. What the diary described as an undercover "ferret team" started developing leads tying the activists, including Moyo, to Nkala's disappearance.

Accounts of beatings and torture also emerged during the testimony.

After hearing these and other stories, High Court Justice Sandra Mungwira ruled that the confessions and the police testimony were so tainted as to be inadmissible.

"In conclusion I would comment that overall the evidence of the State witnesses who are police officers is fraught with conflict and inconsistencies," the judge wrote in March. "The witnesses conducted themselves in a shameless fashion and displayed utter contempt for the due administration of justice to the extent that they were prepared to indulge in what can only be described as works of fiction."

Mungwira also held open the possibility that, as the defense claimed, government agents -- whom she called a "third force" -- had twisted the case to their own ends.

The following month, Moyo, Mpofu and Sibanda -- who had been denied bail for more than two years -- were freed from prison. The three other suspects had been given bail earlier.

Then, this week, prosecutors told the judge that they had no case remaining against five of the suspects, including Moyo. The sixth, Sibanda, still faces the possibility of prosecution when the case resumes on July 26.

Attorneys for all the defendants, however, say they are confident that their clients will soon be exonerated. If that happens, no one will have been brought to justice for the killing of either Nabanyama or Nkala.

Coltart, now a member of parliament, said: "This is the history of ZANU-PF in microcosm. They've used violence to achieve political objectives. . . . They have killed their own and portrayed it as an attack on their own by others."

Moyo is broke and sick, suffering from a variety of maladies including dizziness, weakness and headaches that he blames on the beatings he endured in police custody. He fears more violence leading up to the national elections in March.

"This next coming election will be the killing election," Moyo said. "People will die."

In Bulawayo, Remember Moyo, one of more than a dozen arrested opposition activists, shows fire damage to a co-defendant's house.