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is Robert Mugabe's election weapon
Stephen Bevan, The Telegraph (UK)
December 02, 2007
Robert Mugabe has stepped up the use of torture against political
opponents, civil rights protesters and students in an attempt to
clamp down on dissent ahead of next year's elections.
A Sunday Telegraph investigation
has revealed how torture methods that were once used only by the
feared Central Intelligence Organisation, Zimbabwe's internal security
agency, are now routinely employed by uniformed police officers.
Victims report that electric shock torture is being used simply
to spread indiscriminate terror.
They have given vivid
testimony of life behind the barbed-wire fences of Fairbridge camp,
a sprawling police detention centre in dusty bushland 15 miles outside
Zimbabwe's second biggest city, Bulawayo. It backs up claims by
Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC), that the government has stepped up its campaign of intimidation
despite the continuing talks between the two sides mediated by South
Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki.
The revelations from
former camp inmates also raise further concerns about the decision
by Portugal, which holds the presidency of the European Union, to
invite Mr Mugabe to next weekend's EU Africa summit in Lisbon. The
invitation has prompted the Prime Minister Gordon Brown to boycott
the event, saying he will not share a table with a man guilty of
"oppression and repression".
Fairbridge, which houses
a feared police unit known as the "Black Boots", acts
as a regional interrogation centre for students and protest leaders
arrested in southern Zimbabwe, where support for the MDC is strongest.
Its bloodstained cells have been full in recent months as Mr Mugabe
seeks to quell protests over the country's 8,000 per cent inflation
rate and chronic food and fuel shortages.
student Velathi Ncube, 25, was among 30 taken there after taking
part in a protest over a 400 per cent increase in fees at Bulawayo's
University of Science & Technology. "They put us all
in one room and told us to lie on the floor on our stomachs, then
they started beating us randomly," he said.
"They said 'we'll
teach you not to rebel against the authorities, we'll show you who
has power now'. They took us one by one to another room for questioning.
"When my turn came
I was told to remove my clothes. I sat on a stool facing one of
the policemen who asked me: 'Who organised the demonstration? Who
is sponsoring you?'. There were two other policemen standing behind
me with pliers. Whenever I gave them an answer they didn't like,
they grabbed me with the pliers on my neck and shoulders. I cannot
describe the pain."
The next day, he and
the other students were dumped in the bush 45 miles away.
33-year-old Mandla Nyathi, a Zimbabwe
Congress of Trade Unions activist, told how he and five other
union members were taken to Fairbridge after being arrested during
a demonstration. "When we arrived we were taken into a room
whose walls were covered with blood, and the floor was strewn with
broken bottles and odd shoes," he said.
"The police demanded
to know the whereabouts of our leadership, and when we did not give
them the information the torture began."
When he still refused
to give them any information, police officers took out whips and
started lashing him.
"When that failed
they electrocuted me through the genitals," he added. "As
I passed out I could hear my colleagues screaming in pain as well."
Some of the
worst alleged abuses by police have been carried out upon members
of the civil protest group Woman
of Zimbabwe Arise, most of whom are ordinary mothers. Of 397
members interviewed in a recent survey, 40 per cent said they had
been tortured by police, and 26 per cent needed medical treatment
for their injuries.
One activist, Angela
Nkomo, revealed how she was taken to Fairbridge after taking part
in a demonstration in Bulawayo early this year.
"We were forced
to strip naked and lie on our stomachs before dozens of Black Boots
beat us with baton sticks and leather belts," she said. "After
that we were interviewed individually in a room full of male policemen
while we were naked." Another member, Clarah Makoni, 19, broke
down in tears as she recalled how she was forced to run through
what she described as an obstacle course of electric wires. "The
torture continued for hours," she said. "I was whipped
while lying on my stomach. They then put me in a room full of ice."
According to the latest
monthly report on political violence produced by the Zimbabwe Human
Rights NGO Forum, during the first nine months of this year there
were 776 cases of assault and 526 cases of torture - almost twice
as many as over the same period last year.
Tendai Chabvuta, head
of the forum's research unit, linked the increase in torture to
the forthcoming congress of Mr Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party next
month. It is expected to ratify Mr Mugabe as its presidential candidate
for elections due in March.
"It's quite clear
that 2007 is the worst year for human rights in terms of politically
motivated violence against opposition forces and human rights activists,"
said Mr Chabvuta.
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