Robert Mugabe regime goes back on deal over activists
HARARE – President Robert Mugabe's regime has reneged on an agreement to release dozens of opposition activists, who have been abducted and severely tortured to extract false confessions of terrorism, before Wednesday's swearing in of a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe.
Doctors’ affidavits seen by the Guardian reveal a pattern of torture of many of the 30 political and human rights activists held by the state for months. Nine of the prisoners seen by doctors were subjected to simulated drowning, being hung by their wrists in handcuffs and beaten, and high-voltage electric shocks.
One man was hung upside down from a tree and dumped into a water-filled drum until he passed out.
A 72-year-old man was held in a deep freeze before scalding water was poured on his genitals.
Human rights lawyers say the detainees have been tortured to force them to falsely confess to bomb attacks on police stations or plots to overthrow Mugabe, in an attempt by his regime to justify further state violence against the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
The MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had demanded the release of the detainees, who include his own security chief and a former close aide, as a condition for being sworn in on Wednesday as prime minister in a power-sharing government with Mugabe.
A deal was reached between the MDC and Nicholas Goche, a senior negotiator in Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF, for 16 detainees to be released.
Some were to be taken to hospital last Friday and then quietly freed by a judge in order for the regime to save face. Eight were to appear in court on Monday on the understanding they would be freed.
But none of the detainees were produced after the prisons commissioner, Major-General Paradzai Zimondi, refused to hand them over.
Zimondi is a hardline member of the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which acts as Mugabe’s security cabinet. JOC organised the campaign of terror, beatings and killings against MDC supporters during last year’s elections. The general has threatened violence against the opposition, and recently he burst into a court and broke up a hearing on the release of some of the detainees.
The MDC is interpreting Zimondi’s intervention as evidence that the JOC intends to subvert the power-sharing administration by continuing the violence and intimidation against Tsvangirai’s officials and supporters.
Suspicion over Mugabe’s intent has been further reinforced by what the MDC says is false allegations of corruption laid against seven of its MPs last week in an attempt to overturn the party’s newly won majority in Parliament.
The tortured detainees include Kisimusi "Chris" Dhlamini, a former officer in the Central Intelligence Organisation, who became the MDC’s head of security.
According to an affidavit from a doctor who examined Dhlamini in Harare’s maximum security prison, he was repeatedly assaulted, including being subjected to simulated drowning, hung by his wrists in handcuffs, beaten and burned. The affidavit said there were injuries consistent with high-voltage electric shocks as well.
Gandi Mudzingwa, Tsvangirai’s former personal assistant, was severely beaten with sticks, kicked, subjected to simulated drowning and had his feet smashed with bricks.
Doctors’ affidavits on other prisoners show they were subjected to similar tortures, particularly having their heads forced underwater. A 72-year-old MDC activist, Fidelis Chiramba, was forced into a freezer, stripped naked and had his genitals burned with hot water.
Eight women are being held, including Jestina Mukoko, the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project, who was abducted and tortured, and has been held in prison since last year, accused of training insurgents in Botswana to overthrow Mugabe. – guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2009