13 April 2007

Zimbabwe: 600 Arrested, Abducted Or Tortured - MDC

INCREASING political violence across the country over the past few weeks has seen over 600 opposition leaders and supporters arrested, abducted, tortured or even killed.

Security agencies who have been at the forefront of the mayhem have defended their actions, arguing that they were thwarting plans to overthrow a legitimate government. Police have also accused the opposition of masterminding a spate of petrol bombings around the country.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change this week blamed security agencies it said had been turned into vigilante groups, abducting people, often during the night, torturing and then killing them.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai told journalists yesterday that since February, over 600 people had been abducted and tortured by hit squads, comprising the police, the CIO, and the militias.

"Since February 16, 2007, over 600 people have bee abducted and tortured," Tsvangirai said. "Of these, at least 150 activists and leaders at various levels have sustained death threatening injuries at the ruthless arm of the increasingly partial security apparatus of the state."

"It saddens me to note that some people are being denied bail by the increasingly complicit judiciary and a bench stuffed with subjects who have benefited from the patronage system of land reform and inputs generated by the government," he said.

Tsvangirai distanced his party from the spate of petrol bombings, calling the claims "hysterical shrills of false allegations".

Ten MDC activists including Ian Makone and Luke Tamborinyoka arrested last week for masterminding petrol bombings are still in custody.

His comments come as the police crackdown continues. On Wednesday police arrested two national executive members of the Tsvangirai faction and an unconfirmed number of activists in Bulawayo on allegations that they plotted to derail a local passenger train last month.

Most of those arrested were taken to police stations in Harare.

The MDC national executive member in charge of Bulawayo, Getrude Mthombeni, confirmed that two national executive members, Themba Nyathi, who is also the vice-chairperson for Bulawayo province and Sikhululekile Nkala, were picked up by police and taken to Harare on Wednesday.

She said several party supporters were picked up in an exercise that began over the weekend but said some of the members were released on Monday.

"The police have been rounding up our supporters over the weekend and Nkala and Nyathi were taken to Harare where they are detained but the rest were released after being interrogated by the police," Mthombeni said.

MDC sources say Nkala is being detained at Matapi police station while Nyathi is detained at Rhodesville.

The lawyer representing the two, Kucaca Phulu, on Wednesday said he was still not aware of where his clients were.

"There is talk that they were taken to Harare but there has not been any communication from the police on the whereabouts of my clients," Phulu said.

Nkala and Nyathi are accused of trying to derail a local passenger train known as the Freedom Train between Emganwini and the city centre three weeks ago.

In Masvingo, on Tuesday seven students were arrested for protesting against university authorities' decision to deny them food.

Tsvangirai said the false allegations against the MDC were not new.

"In 2002, they accused us of murdering Cain Nkala and used this as a pretext of completely paralysing our entire administrative structure by bringing accusations against our treasurer Fletcher Dulini Ncube and other key members," he said.

He said for some time MDC were labelled terrorists and saboteurs until the late Justice Mungwira acquitted and absolved the party and its leadership. She described police evidence as "a work of fiction".

Tsvangirai said even after the 2002 presidential election government cooked up treason charges against him.

"All of us remember Justice Garwe's brilliant judgement handed down on October 15, 2004," he said. "It exposed a Zanu PF plot to discredit our leadership."

Tsvangirai said Zanu PF's dirty tricks date back to the 1980s.

"Many of us will recall how in 1981 Zanu PF planted arms on Zapu farms and used this as a pretext to pulverise Zapu and in the process to engage in ethnic cleansing that left 20 000 of our Matabeleland population dead," he said. "Many of us will also recall the cooked up charges against Ndabaningi Sithole when he was accused of trying to kill President Mugabe using a claymore mine and a rusty and dysfunctional AK rifle."

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