TWO more civil society activists and a former aide to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai were this week abducted, as the High Court ordered the police to make concerted efforts to search for the missing Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko.
A brother of human rights lawyer Harrison Nkomo, Zachariah, was also abducted on Friday night from his home in Rujeko, Masvingo. The MDC-T on Wednesday said Ghandi Mudzingwa, a former Tsvangirai aide, was abducted on Monday from Msasa Park, while five unidentified men forcibly took Mukokoâ€™s workmates – Pascal Gonzo and Brodrick Takawira – from their office in Mt Pleasant.
Sources in civil society told the Zimbabwe Independent that a delegation from the non-governmental organisations sector has approached senior government officials asking them to assist in establishing the whereabouts and safety of Mukoko and other missing civic and political activists.
Mukoko was abducted from her Norton home early last Wednesday morning. The delegation, the sources said, sought the assistance of Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi and Women Affairs minister Oppah Muchinguri, among others.
â€œMost highly placed government officials have acknowledged the reality of foul play in the Mukoko case, but none of them have been able to take decisive action apart from sympathising,â€ one of the sources said.
The umbrella body of the civil society groups, the National Association of Non- Governmental Organisations (Nango), last week wrote to the police requesting for assistance in establishing the whereabouts of Mukoko.
However, the police in their response this week said they did not have the former television broadcaster in any of their cells and that they were treating the case as kidnapping.
The police wrote: â€œBe advised that investigations into circumstances of the taking away of Jestina Mukoko from her home have been instituted under Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), Norton, report received Book Number 0438167, and Crime register 54/12/08. The matter is being treated as kidnapping.â€
Nango told the Independent that there were now security fears in the civil society. â€œThe ZRP has resolved to treat the matter as a kidnapping and have confirmed that she (Mukoko) is not in any one of their cells,â€ Nango said. â€œHowever, given the new wave of raids on civil society offices and activistsâ€™ houses there are strong reasons to fear for the security of every activist in the land.”
On Tuesday, High Court judge, Justice Anne Gowora ordered the police to search for Mukoko in all places of detention that they have jurisdiction over.
The other missing activists are 15 MDC members, among them Concillia Chinanzvavana, the MDC Mashonaland West provincial Chairperson of the Womenâ€™s Assembly and her husband, Emmanuel Chinanzvavana, who is a councillor for Ward 25 in Zvimba South.
Meanwhile, human rights groups have called on the Zimbabwe authorities to cease the persecution of human rights activists. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Institute also urged the international and African community to take strong action to protect those who fight for human rights in Zimbabwe.
The abduction of activists, the organisation said, was taking place at a time when the country was facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, including a cholera outbreak and severe food shortages. â€œBehind the political crisis and health emergency, there is a worsening human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, with the most recent development being this unprecedented spate of abductions of human rights defenders,â€ said Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International. â€œThis shows the audacity of a regime that is desperate to stay in power, no matter what the cost. The only way out of this problem is through unified pressure from outside, in particular of African leaders.â€
The human rights organisations urged the African Union, Sadc and the United Nations to lead the way in exerting pressure on President Robert Mugabe and called on African leaders to issue a unanimous and public condemnation of Zimbabweâ€™s actions.
â€œThe situation in Zimbabwe is spiralling out of control,â€ said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. â€œThe government has made clear it canâ€™t end the humanitarian crisis and wonâ€™t end the vicious pursuit of its opponents. Regional and international leaders need urgently to respond.â€
Forced disappearance or abduction has been used as a political tool of many regimes in the world. It was first used as a tool of political oppression by dictatorships in Latin America in the 1960s.
The practice was systemised and used extensively in Latin America in the 1970s, particularly in Argentina.
The technique was later refined and applied in other parts of the world, including Africa and Asia and the Middle East.
In Argentina during the el proceso, opponents of the regime, usually political and civil society activists, â€œdisappearedâ€ meaning they were kidnapped, tortured and then disposed of â€” often thrown out of a plane while drugged, but still alive into the estuary of the River Plate. Meanwhile, police in Gweru have released 33 civil society activists who were arrested last Wednesday while taking part in a ZCTU demonstration against the low cash withdrawal limits.
BY LUCIA MAKAMURE