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POLICE have ordered the National Art Gallery in Bulawayo to cover its glass wall with newspapers so that the public cannot view from outside the paintings depicting the Gukurahundi massacres.

The paintings were exhibited last Friday by local artist Owen Maseko, who was arrested during a two-day exhibition at the gallery.

Staff at the gallery were also ordered not to allow anyone inside until police complete their investigations.

Police spokesperson Oliver Mandipaka said: “I cannot comment on this matter now as it is before the courts. Investigations are still in progress.”

More than 20 000 people were killed during the Gukurahundi era when President Robert Mugabe’s government unleashed the North Korean-trained Five Brigade soldiers into Matabeleland and Midlands provinces.

Maseko was granted US$100 bail by a Bulawayo magistrate after spending the weekend in police custody. He is being charged under Section 33 and Section 42 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Under Section 33, Maseko is being charged with insulting and undermining the authority of the president and under Clause 42 for causing prejudice towards religion and creed.

Most of the pictures have a red background depicting blood and some were painted on the wall.

Maseko, who was represented by Kucaca Phulu of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), appeared before Bulawayo magistrate, Victor Mpofu, on Tuesday morning and was ordered to return to court on April 12 for trial.

He was arrested together with Vote Thebe, the manager of the Bulawayo Art Gallery. Thebe was however later released without being charged.

Initially the magistrate had deferred passing judgment on the bail application.

The arrest of Maseko and Thebe came just a day after police raided the National Art gallery in Harare and tried to stop a Zimbabwe Human Rights (ZimRights) photo exhibition taking place.

They arrested ZimRights national director, Okay Machisa. The exhibition only went ahead after the High Court gave them the go ahead. But it closed a second time when police threatened to return.

The Harare exhibition was to showcase pictures of violence by President Robert Mugabe’s security agents and militia on its opponents from 1990 when the Movement for Democratic Change was formed. One of the pictures on display featured a bruised and battered Morgan Tsvangirai after his assault at Machipisa police station.

Loughty Dube/Fortune Dlamini