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Statement on police raids in Harare
The Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and The Southern Africa Litigation Centre(SALC)
March 29, 2007

Harare, Zimbabwe – In police raids yesterday, approximately thirty five individuals linked with the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were arrested and detained. Also arrested was MDC president, Morgan Tsvangirai, although he was later released.

At present the whereabouts of the thirty five individuals are unknown although well-placed sources believe that tactics like those used during the brutal police crackdown on March 11 are being deployed – when detainees were continuously moved between police stations in order to frustrate access to families, legal representation and medical care.

Lawyers are again not only being denied access but are themselves threatened. Lawyers who appeared at Harare’s Central police station yesterday afternoon, attempting to determine the location of the detainees, were told that if they returned, they would be arrested­. Otto Saki of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) says that an urgent application seeking immediate access to the detainees has been launched.

These developments come amid increased reports of random violence directed by military forces against Zimbabwean civilians. Yesterday, large sections of Harare were cordoned off as armed forces staged random searches of individuals moving through these areas, ostensibly searching for weapons.

MDC officials have been subjected to invasive searches of their homes and persons. In one such instance, Peter Bhakosi, chairperson of Harare’s Ward 11 , was confronted in the early hours of yesterday morning by about 20 armed police who proceeded to dig up his backyard. Again, the ostensible purpose was a suspicion of arms stockpiling.

But says Ozias Tungwarara, director of OSISA’s affiliate, Afrimap: "It is not overly speculative to suppose that these recent arrests and searches are being carefully orchestrated with the intention of legitimizing the government’s recent actions. It won’t be surprising to learn that the detainees are to be charged with treason or some other offence related to violence against the state. All this happens at the exact moment that Mugabe is meeting with other SADC heads of state in Tanzania, and it allows him to say, ‘ we’re dealing with an opposition bent on violence and our tactics are justified.’ Certainly, this wouldn’t be the first time that the Zimbabwean government’s leadership has sought to smear its opponents and legitimize its own brutal tactics by falsely alleging arms possession and stockpiling."

And says Tawanda Mutasah, director of OSISA: "Mugabe and his allies have consistently pulled the wool over the eyes of their African neighbours using a combination of diversionary national theatrics as well as blatant untruths. Only recently, a thirteen page propaganda document was issued by Mugabe’s Foreign Minister to all African embassies claiming that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was at no time assaulted in police custody."

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