Zimbabwe torture activists arrested
Harare – Two Zimbabwean human rights workers were arrested on Monday after they attempted to hold a meeting with rural villagers to raise awareness of torture, an official of the rights organization said on Tuesday.
The incident is the latest in a long-running series of arrests of human rights activists raising the issue of a notorious three-year pogrom by President Robert Mugabe’s security forces in which 20 000 civilians are estimated to have been murdered in a low-intensity insurgency in western Zimbabwe soon after Mugabe came to power in 1980.
Florence Ndlovu and Walter Dube, legal officers for the Zimrights organisation, were still being held in a police station in western Zimbabwe and denied access to their lawyers, said Zimrights spokesperson Norma Masaire.
They were arrested after showing police officers a court order specifically barring police from interfering with their planned anti-torture meeting, she said, and police had refused to specify charges against the two. Earlier, senior officers had banned the meeting, saying that “the subject of torture is not in line with Zimbabwean culture”.
The district of Tjolotjo where the meeting was planned was the scene of mass murders and severe human rights abuses 30 years ago.
Observers say that the formation of the coalition government in 2009 between Mugabe and pro-democracy leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been followed by widespread demands for investigations into and reparations for the massacres of the 1980s, which Mugabe’s regime has suppressed.
Last month a cabinet minister and a priest were arrested and held in handcuffs and leg irons for five days after police broke up a meeting where the two men had discussed the need for openness toward the killings.
Mugabe is under pressure from his Southern African neighbours, led by South African president Jacob Zuma, for failing to adhere to the terms of the coalition agreement brokered by Southern African leaders, which include clamping down on violence and malicious arrests of opponents.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said 27 mourners were still in detention on Tuesday after being arrested as they left a funeral of an activist of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party six days ago.
Also at a summit of Southern African leaders in Windhoek, Namibia, at the weekend, Zimbabwean human rights officials were arrested and harassed by Zimbabwean and Namibian secret police.
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