Spate of Arrests Ahead of Elections in Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe—still in charge. (Photo: IRIN)

The detention of presidential contender Morgan Tsvangirai by Zimbabwean police for nearly 12 hours on Wednesday is another instance of the orchestrated harassment of opposition Movement for Democratic Change (M.D.C.) supporters and other organizations regarded as out of step with the 28-year rule of President Robert Mugabe, according to analysts.

CARE International, one of the largest nongovernmental organizations operating in Zimbabwe, has been ordered to suspend its operations for alleged political activity, as have others.

Media reports on Thursday said a convoy of British and American diplomatic staff investigating reports of election violence north of the capital was stopped by a police roadblock at Bindura, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Harare, where the tires of their vehicles were slashed and a Zimbabwean driver was hauled from one of the diplomatic cars and beaten by police.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a televised briefing from Washington that the incident was "unacceptable," had caused "deep distress," and was the action of a government that "does not know any bounds"; the United States would take up the incident in the United Nations Security Council.

M.D.C. spokesman Nelson Chamisa told IRIN that party leader Tsvangirai, his deputy, Thokozani Khupe, party chairperson Lovemore Moyo, as well as other senior party officials and their security detail were stopped at a roadblock, and then held at Lupane police station, north of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.

Tsvangirai, who claims that election rigging cost him victory in the March 29 presidential vote, will contest the run-off ballot on June 27. He left Zimbabwe soon after the March elections, in which ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time since independence in 1980, and very recently returned to Zimbabwe. He sustained head injuries last year from a beating in police custody and has twice been charged with treason.

Morgan Tsvangirai—free again. (Photo: IRIN)

Chamisa said the party had confirmed the killings of 60 M.D.C. supporters since the March ballot, but this was "a conservative figure," as ZANU-PF had established "no-go" areas where people were "being killed, buried, and forgotten."

One of the people killed was a local M.D.C. organizer, Tonderai Ndira, who had been arrested 35 times and was taken from his house on May 14 by six armed, masked men.

His decomposing body was found a few weeks later. According to reports, a preliminary autopsy by an independent South African pathologist said "it was clear that he died very soon after he was abducted."

Absence of Election Observers

The promise of a heavier presence by the few election observer missions approved by the government had not led to an increase in their "visibility" Chamisa said.

There was no indication that observers from the African Union, the Pan African Parliament and the Southern African Development Community had deployed to violence hotspots in the northern and western provinces of Mashonaland West, Central, and East, Manicaland, Masvingo, and Midlands.

The president of an M.D.C. breakaway faction, Arthur Mutambara, was released on bail after his arrest under the controversial Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act—a few days before Tsvangirai was taken into custody—for allegedly writing falsehoods and "undermining public confidence in the army."

In an article titled "A Shameful Betrayal of Independence," Mutambara, whose party won more than 10 legislative seats in the March elections wrote, "Our country is characterized by extreme illegitimacy, where we have an imbecilic and cynical military junta running the affairs of the country."

He also accused the High Court of aiding the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission—accused of favoring ZANU-PF—in delaying the announcement of the March 29 election results.

There was a long delay in announcing the winning party candidates in the election of municipal councils, the senate, parliament, and for the presidency. The opposition charged that the delay enabled election rigging.

Davison Maruziva, the editor of Zimbabwe's independent newspaper, The Standard, was arrested for publishing the article and is also on bail.

Political analyst John Makumbe said the recent "spate" of arrests was part of a strategy to intimidate government critics ahead of the presidential poll run-off on June 27.

"The government is harassing defenders of people's rights—politicians, civic society members, media practitioners, and even clerics—on the assumption that it will cow them into submission, but ZANU-PF ought to know that no amount of coercion will change people's views," Makumbe told IRIN.

He said the police were targeting people who held views contrary to those of the government, and, "The state media is full of slanderous content, just as ZANU-PF is pregnant with torturers and murderers but the culprits are never arrested." Makumbe claimed the run-off would not be free and fair because of the harassment of critics and members of the opposition.

On May 31, Eric Matinenga, a human rights lawyer who won a parliamentary seat for the M.D.C., was arrested. Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena said in a statement on Monday that Matinenga was arrested for incitement in rural Buhera, in Manicaland province. Matinenga has instituted court action to bar the deployment of soldiers in his constituency, on the grounds that they were spearheading a terror campaign.

Military Loyal to Mugabe

The National Constitutional Assembly, an N.G.O. lobbying for a new, people-driven constitution, has accused the military of acting unconstitutionally by manipulating soldiers to support Mugabe.

The state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, quoted Maj. Gen. Martin Chedondo as telling soldiers: "the constitution says the country should be protected by voting, and in the 27 June presidential election run-off, pitting our defense chief, Comrade Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai of the M.D.C., we should therefore stand behind our commander-in-chief [Mugabe]."

Chedondo said the army was not expected to be apolitical and should protect ZANU-PF principles, otherwise members should resign.

National Constitutional Assembly chairman Lovemore Madhuku told IRIN: "The constitution is clear; it does not allocate to the military any political functions and for it to come out so brazenly on the side of a political candidate simply demonstrates the army's waywardness."

The heads of the army, police, and prison services have already publicly stated that they will not accept a Tsvangirai presidency. © IRIN

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]

From Integrated Regional Information Networks.