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Bashing Dissent: Escalating Violence and State Repression in Zimbabwe
Human Rights Watch
May 02, 2007

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Arbitrary arrests, detentions, beatings, torture and ill treatment of opposition members and supporters and civil society activists by state authorities have all been key features of Zimbabwe’s seven-year political crisis. Unrest has rocked the country since 2000, when the government lost a referendum on changes to the constitution, and then embarked on a violent and controversial land reform program.

The run-up to and aftermath of subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections in 2000 and 2002 were marred by widespread politically motivated violence perpetrated by the police, intelligence agents, members and supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF), and "youth militia," against members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), civil society activists and anyone perceived to be a supporter of the MDC. Elections in 2005 were less violent than the previous elections but nevertheless marred by numerous abuses including arbitrary arrests of opposition supporters and civil society activists and violations of electoral laws. Few perpetrators of abuses have been brought to account.

In May 2005, the government of Zimbabwe forcibly evicted hundreds of thousands of people from the high-density urban areas of the country’s cities in a campaign known as "Operation Murambatsvina." The operation entailed large-scale human rights violations with authorities arbitrarily forcing hundreds of thousands of people to destroy or cede their property without due notice, process or compensation, and precipitated a massive humanitarian crisis. Some critics accused the government of carrying out the campaign to prevent mass uprisings in the high-density areas against the deteriorating political and economic conditions.

In November 2005, the MDC—which was formed in 1999 with Morgan Tsvangirai as its leader—split into two factions after disagreements over whether the MDC should run for senate elections. The Bulawayo-based faction of the MDC is led by Arthur Mutambara, while the Harare-based faction is led by Morgan Tsvangirai. However, in recent months the two factions of the MDC have reportedly worked closely together and pledged to form a united front in challenging the government’s policies.

In the past year, Zimbabwean security forces in violation of international human rights law have rounded up hundreds of opposition members and supporters and civil society activists peacefully protesting the political and economic crisis in the country. The police routinely use unnecessary force to disrupt peaceful protests and subject activists to severe beatings and other mistreatment in police custody.

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