Abduction of Justina Mukoko condemned

HARARE – The abduction former ZBC TV/Radio personality Jestina Mukoko, now one of Zimbabwe's most prominent human rights activists, appears to signal that Robert Mugabe's regime has renewed its campaign of violence against the country's civil society.

Freedom House calls for the immediate release of Mukoko and all other prisoners of conscience and urges regional powers to break the political deadlock that has sent Zimbabwe spiraling.

"Jestina Mukoko’s kidnapping is part of a disturbing new escalation in abductions and other human rights abuses in Zimbabwe," said Thomas O. Melia, Freedom House deputy executive director. "This crackdown is what Mugabe and his cronies do when faced with real problems like a mounting death toll from cholera and a worthless currency."

Gunmen kidnapped Mukoko, director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project which monitors human rights abuses, early today from her home. Witnesses believe the armed men were plain clothed security agents with Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organization.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project recently warned about a sharp increase <http://www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/zpp_hrviol_report_0809.pdf> in harassment and intimidation, mainly targeting critics of the Mugabe government. yesterda in Harare, protesting health workers and unionists were arrested and beaten by riot police.

Earlier this year, Mukoko’s organization played a leading role in documenting election-related violence that claimed the lives of more than 100 people, mainly opposition supporters. Elections in March resulted in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change winning a majority in parliament and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai winning a plurality in the presidential contest against Mugabe. When state-directed violence undermined the scheduled presidential runoff election in June, Tsvangirai withdrew and a mediation effort was undertaken by Southern African Development Community (SADC), led by South Africa. However, Mugabe’s refusal to allow MDC leaders to assume control of key ministries has stalled power-sharing talks and prevented the government from addressing the country’s humanitarian crisis.

"The Southern African Development Community, led by South Africa, is supposed to be brokering a political solution in Zimbabwe. Instead, SADC stands idly by watching Zimbabwe implode," said Melia. "The world is waiting for African governments to do what they have long said they would prefer-to find ‘African solutions to African problems.’ It is entirely within the capacity of South Africa and SADC to bring meaningful pressure to bear on Mugabe and his cronies and they have declined to do so for reasons they do not make clear."

Zimbabwe is ranked Not Free in the 2008 edition of Freedom in the World, Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and in the 2008 version of Freedom of the Press.

Freedom House, an independent nongovernmental organization that supports the expansion of freedom in the world, has been monitoring political rights and civil liberties in Zimbabwe since 1972.