Govt lashes out as protests spread


Staff writers

ARBITRARY arrests, assaults, torture, and general intimidation of the public have characterised government’s response to this week’s mass action, reports yesterday revealed

. But the Movement for Democratic Change which is spearheading the protests said it was “winning against the dictator”.



It has called on its supporters to “rise up in your millions” today, the last day of the nationwide mass action, designated “D-Day”.


Legal umbrella group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported the detention of individuals by police without adequate suspicion of an offence, cases of torture and other mistreatment of detainees, squalid conditions in police cells, and a refusal to cooperate with lawyers representing those detained.


“The conditions are shocking and inhuman which violate the constitution and international instruments that the government has signed and ratified,” the legal group said.


By yesterday two people had been confirmed dead while more than 500 had been arrested since Monday. Hundreds of others have been injured. People seeking assistance at the Avenues Clinic complained of police harassment on Wednesday and yesterday.


Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena yesterday confirmed that two people had died in the crackdown.


Amon Nyadongo (41) of Mbare was stoned to death on Monday near Gwanzura stadium in Highfield as uniformed forces clashed with protesters. An MDC official, Tichaona Kaguru, died after being allegedly abducted and tortured by government security agents.


Kaguru was allegedly abducted by 40 armed soldiers together with Harare City councillor Sydney Mazaranhanga before he was assaulted and left to die at a police clinic in Chikurubi.


The sweeping attacks and arrests targeted MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, senior party officials, MPs and supporters.


In Harare’s city centre Zanu PF’s rag-tag army of youths – some of them barefoot – terrorised people at random and tore up copies of independent newspapers. There were reports of youths robbing pedestrians of cellphones and cash. Police were seen on Tuesday giving youths who had torn up papers a lecture before letting them go.


Security forces tried to prevent those injured from receiving treat-ment. On Wednesday, they stormed Avenues Clinic where many victims had been admitted and abducted one person. Over 58 people had been treated, hospital staff reported.


The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights condemned police and army violence against civilians.


“We are concerned that the heavy presence and intimidating behaviour of the uniformed forces in hospital premises will prevent patients from accessing treatment,” it said.


In Gweru lawyers representing arrested MDC supporters were harassed by the police while patrons at Portugal Restaurant along Samora Machel Avenue in Harare were beaten up by soldiers on Tuesday night.


The following night soldiers were reported as moving from house to house in Chitungwiza and Highfield beating up residents suspected of being linked to the opposition.


The security forces used teargas, baton sticks and in some cases live bullets during their crackdown on opposition demonstrators earlier this week. Highfield and Glen View residents and university students were attacked and beaten by riot police and the army.


Crisis in Zimbabwe, a coalition of civic groups, said it was concerned about the violent suppression of the mass action.


“Across the country, students, pro-democracy activists, and those suspected of organising or supporting the mass action have been targeted for arrest and have been subjected to police brutality,” it said.


Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge on Wednesday summoned diplomats based in Harare to a meeting at the President’s Office where he defended the use of force to suppress peaceful mass action.


Some senior diplomats who attended the meeting expressed concern at the repressive tactics of government.


Australian High Commissioner Jonathan Brown told the meeting that “the people of Zimbabwe have a right to peaceful protest and this should be respected”.


The Japanese ambassador, Tsu-neshige Iiyama, said freedom ofassociation was important in de-mocratic systems.


French ambassador Didier Ferrand rejected Mudenge’s claims that Paris used coercion and banned protests during this week’s G8 summit at Evian.


In an aside, German ambassador Peter Schmidt said in his country people did not need police approval to demonstrate. – Staff Writers.

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