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of dissent in police force
April 17, 2007
BULAWAYO - Zimbabwe's
security forces have been criticised for their often-severe crackdown
on opposition activists, but some policemen say they have arrested
and sometimes tortured pro-democracy activists against their personal
They maintained they
were forced to carry out their superiors' instructions out of fear.
"Since the arrests and crackdown on the opposition started
on 11 March, I have found myself having to deal with tough situations
that have made me do things I would not personally and independently
want to do," said a police officer who chose to be named as
Zex said he had been
involved in the ongoing campaign against the opposition Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) party, which alleged that 600 of its
members had been abducted, tortured or arrested on "trumped
"I have beaten up
and arrested some opposition activists in Harare [the capital],
where I was transferred to recently, but each time I have done this
my heart has bled because I have done it against my will,"
"These are simply
activists advocating for change, which I also want to see take place,
but because I am a police officer and there is always somebody watching
my moves and dishing out commands, I am afraid I cannot resist.
The consequences may be dire if I did that, perhaps more than those
of the activists I have beaten up or witnessed being tortured,"
According to the MDC,
two of its members have been killed by police since 11 March, when
heavily armed police officers clashed with pro-democracy activists
who were on their way to a prayer meeting in Harare.
Nelson Chamisa, MDC spokesman,
said one activist was shot dead on the spot during the ensuing mêlée,
while the other reportedly died from injuries a few days later.
Several MDC officials, including Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of a
faction of the splintered opposition party, were arrested and allegedly
beaten up by the police while in custody.
Another police official,
who also chose to remain anonymous, claimed that colleagues who
had chosen to disobey orders had been tortured. "It's not an
easy task to go out and refuse to go and assault MDC people when
your boss says you should do that. I know of colleagues who have
been severely tortured after disobeying commands from our bosses."
Police spokesman Wayne
Bvudzijena dismissed the claims. "How can we assault our own
police officials?" he asked in response to claims that officials
had been encouraged to beat up opposition activists.
"No one [policemen]
is allowed hit anyone. There are certain instances where you have
to use force: to disperse crowds, as is the practice elsewhere in
the world. The act of arrest is, in itself, the use of force on
an individual. They are trying to distort the facts. We have never
encouraged police officers to assault members of the public,"
A police official said
although security forces remained loyal to the government, most
of them, especially the youth, were fed up with the current leadership
and wanted to see a change of government.
''I have found
myself having to deal with tough situations that have made me do
things I would not personally and independently want to do''
is actually high among youthful security officers, both in the police
and the army, but because our superiors are content with the situation
in the country, mainly because they are well paid, there is nothing
we can do," he said.
here in Bulawayo, the second city, and we have even been advised
to shoot to kill should there be any overt street protests. There
have actually been mixed feelings about this directive amongst the
police, since it was issued ... Some are for it, especially those
that are benefiting from the current government, but the poorly
paid, like me, are not supportive of it. We are also itching for
regime change, but we find ourselves in a much more awkward position."
However, he added that
other security personnel, especially those employed by the Central
Intelligence Organisation (CIO) appeared to be fully behind the
ruling party and performed their duties with absolute allegiance
because they were highly paid.
After a recent special
salary hike for CIO personnel, the lowest-paid agent now earns US$400
a month, while policemen and soldiers take home about half that.
Most ordinary Zimbabweans find surviving in a country with the world's
highest annual inflation rate - more than 1,700 percent - extremely
The crackdown on pro-democracy
campaigns has also had other repercussions: several police stations
in various parts of the country have been petrol-bombed.
The police have blamed
the MDC for the attacks but the opposition has denied any involvement,
and instead have accused the government of masterminding the violence
to create an excuse for cracking down on the opposition and incapacitate
it ahead of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.
there are good security officers out there," said Job Sikhala,
the MDC's shadow defence secretary, "and some have actually
quit the force, including the army, because they are not happy."
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