A black political activist who escaped police custody and sought refuge at the U.S. Consulate left the mission a free man Friday when the government ordered his release from detention without charge, officials said.

"He's free to go," said Audrey Coleman of the Detainees Aid Center, a private support group, shortly before the activist left the consulate in Johannesburg.Simon Ntombela, 27, detained without charge on Sept. 1, 1988, escaped Wednesday from a Durban hospital where he was staging a hunger strike to demand his release. He boarded a plane to Johannesburg where he was granted refuge at the U.S. Consulate and sought his unconditional release.

On Thursday, six black activists left the British Embassy in Pretoria, less than 24 hours after taking refuge in the mission to appeal for pressure on South Africa's minority white government to lift restrictions on their political activity.