THE on-going arrests and intimidation of President Robert Mugabe's political rivals and civil rights activists by State security agents is a precursor to worst things to come as the country prepares for elections next year, observers have said.
They said it has become a norm that towards elections, the country experiences an upsurge in political violence and arrests of those critical of Zanu PF and Mugabe's administration.
The observation comes following last week's arrest of three key staffers of the Counselling Services Unit (CSU), a registered medical clinic that provides counselling and referral services to victims of trauma.
The three are accused of spraying some MDC graffiti on an information centre in Bulawayo last month in contravention of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) described the arrests as driven by "paranoia" as the unit provides medical counselling care for victims of police brutality and political violence.
The union warned of more arrests as dates for elections, which Mugabe insists would be held in March next year, draw near.
"This incident is a forerunner of more shocking raids, arrests, intimidation and detentions that are to follow as the country gets ready for elections in 2013," said ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo.
"This is not only an attack on the CSU but also an attack on the broader human right defenders network because within that network, CSU has been doing sterling work in providing medical and counselling care for victims of police brutality and political violence."
The unit assisted several victims of political violence in the 2008 elections. The MDC-T claims that at least 500 of its supporters were killed by Zanu PF and State security agents during that time.
Several MDC-T activists were also arrested on allegations ranging from perpetrating violence to petrol-bombing police stations but most of the cases crumbled like a deck of cards in the courts.
The last few months have seen several raids and arrests of human rights activists, journalists and MDC-T officials.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director, Abel Chikomo has since last year been a victim of harassment by law enforcement agents. He was charged of leading an unregistered organisation.
The State withdrew the charges but said they would continue by way of summons.
Political analysts said Chikomo, like other human rights defenders, was on the radar of the State security agents because his organisation has been assisting victims of organised violence, including those of political violence.
"If you look at it, security agents only target those organisations or people who were or are helping victims of political violence," said one analyst.
"These arrests are political and they will definitely increase as we head for elections. He (Mugabe) is sharpening his daggers."
In August, more than 20 police officers raided the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (Galz) office in Harare and confiscated computers, digital versatile discs, pamphlets, compact discs and various documents.
The officers claimed that GALZ was in "possession of pamphlets and fliers with information that promotes homosexuality for distribution".
Mugabe, who of late has been preaching peace and co-existence, is against homosexuals and has previously labelled them as "worse than pig and dogs".
In 2008, another human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, who heads the Zimbabwe Peace Project, was abducted and tortured by State security agents because her organisation was documenting cases of rights abuse across the country.
She is now suing the State.
Mugabe's political rivals in the coalition government have not been spared.
A fortnight ago, Elton Mangoma, MDC-T deputy treasurer-general and minister of Energy and Power Development in the inclusive government, was summoned to attend court in Bindura on charges of insulting the President.
Several other officials are facing the same charge.
"What is unsettling is that the arrests come at a time when the inclusive government should be working hard on improving critical reforms before the country goes for the referendum and elections in 2013," said the MDC-T in a statement.
"It is an affront to democracy and we call for an immediate end to these illegal acts by the State and Zanu PF."
US embassy in Harare shocked by arrests
The United Sates Embassy in Harare was equally shocked by the arrests.
It said there was a worrying trend in Zimbabwe of deploying security agents to threaten political activists and those who provided support to victims of intimidation and abuse.
"In the lead up to national elections, the United States looks to the government of Zimbabwe to ensure that all security sector leaders and groups strictly follow President Mugabe's call for non-violence; and that they also follow a policy of non-interference in democratic processes, including no harassment, intimidation, or hints of retribution," said the Embassy in a statement.