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Govt accused of using 'trumped up charges' against opposition
April 03
, 2007

HARARE - Human rights activists have dismissed the recent arrest of several members of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) for allegedly playing a role in the recent spate of petrol-bombings across the country as an attempt to discredit the main opposition party.

"It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the MDC activists were arrested by the police, which is increasingly becoming a political arm of the government, on trumped up charges," Jacob Mafume, a human rights lawyer working with Crisis in Zimbabwe, a coalition of more than 300 civil society organisations, told IRIN.

Zimbabwe has been simmering for the past three months, but the situation has taken a violent turn since the police imposed a ban on political rallies in February. Strikes and protests to highlight the worsening economic situation have now given way to bombings of several police stations, a passenger train and a supermarket, among other targets across the country.

In midnight raids last week, police picked up MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai's advisor, Ian Makone, party member Piniel Denga and their wives, and arrested 31 other party activists, accusing them of possessing military weapons and organising terror attacks across the country.

Mafume asked, "If the government was convinced that the MDC had been behind the attacks, [why] only a few individuals and not the leadership of the opposition had been arrested?"

The MDC has claimed that some of those arrested have been tortured while in police custody. Makone and another arrested opposition supporter, Shame Wakatama, were put on a life-support system after the alleged torture.

Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena, the national police spokesman, said he was unable to confirm or deny the torture claims, but described the allegations as "an attempt [by the MDC] to divert attention from the serious charges".

Some of the suspects were taken to hospital under prison guard after they appeared before a Harare magistrate on 31 March, according to their lawyer, Aleck Muchadehama. He told IRIN that the arrested MDC members appeared in court again on Tuesday, and were transferred from hospital to a remand prison in Harare. None of the arrested MDC members have been granted bail.

The official daily newspaper, The Herald, said the police believed Makone was the mastermind behind the bombings and, as the leader of a so-called 'Democratic Resistance Committee', allegedly ran a training programme for the activists. The MDC has denied the existence of the committee or any connection with the bombings.

Bvudzijena told a press conference on 28 March that in separate raids on the homes of the suspects and the party headquarters in the capital, Harare, MDC members had been found in possession of explosives, two unlicensed pistols, loud hailers and communication radios, as well as party regalia and tins of paint.

The member of parliament for Glen View, Paul Madzore, and Luke Tamborinyoka, a former journalist, were also arrested.

David Chimhini, chairman of the rights group Zimbabwe Civic Education Trust, said it would be difficult for the arrested MDC members to expect fair treatment in such a politicised climate.

"In an environment like the one that exists today, where there are so many allegations of suspects being brutalised in police custody, it is legitimate to suspect that the whole process of arresting and trying people is determined by the political interests of those in power," he commented.

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