Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Fair poll impossible in Zimbabwe - rights group

By Barry Moody

JOHANNESBURG, June 9 (Reuters) - A systematic government campaign of murder and brutality has eliminated any chance of a fair presidential election in Zimbabwe, an international rights group said on Monday.

A report by U.S.-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented at least 36 politically-motivated murders and 2,000 victims of a campaign of killings, abductions, beatings and torture by the ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe.

It said more than 3,000 people had fled the violence which began after March 29 elections in which ZANU-PF lost control of parliament for the first time and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat Mugabe in the presidential race.

Official results showed Tsvangirai fell short of the absolute majority needed for outright victory and a run-off against Mugabe will be held on June 27.

"Since the run-off was announced, the violence in Zimbabwe has gotten even worse. Zimbabweans cannot vote freely if they fear their vote may get them killed," said the human rights group's Africa director Georgette Gagnon.

The report said the government had incited and perpetrated the violence to intimidate and punish opposition supporters and had failed to prosecute those responsible, who included the security forces, liberation war veterans and youth militia. The violent campaign "has extinguished any chance of a free and fair presidential runoff," HRW said.

Mugabe accuses the opposition of inciting violence and Deputy Attorney-General Johannes Tomana on Monday told the state-controlled Herald newspaper that both sides were involved.

Human Rights Watch said ZANU-PF and its allies had set up torture camps and re-education meetings around the country to force opposition supporters to vote for Mugabe. Hundreds of people had been beaten with logs, whips and bicycle chains.

The group said party officials and war veterans beat six men to death and tortured another 70 people including a 76-year-old woman at a re-education meeting in northeastern Zimbabwe. In another incident, around 20 men suspected of voting for Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were beaten in front of their village. A 45-year-old man said he was beaten with whips, chains and iron bars and his leg was broken.



CHURCH OFFICE RAIDED

Police on Monday raided the Harare offices of Christian Alliance, a coalition of church leaders critical of Mugabe's government, its lawyer said.

"They took four people ...to the central police station. But we just believe this is an intelligence gathering exercise," lawyer Alec Muchadehama said.

HRW said it had extensive evidence that senior army and police officers were directly implicated in the violence.

"President Robert Mugabe and his government...bear full responsibility for these serious crimes. They have shown gross indifference to the plight of the people, allowing senior-ranking security officers, war veterans, youth militia and ZANU-PF free rein to commit horrifying abuses," Gagnon said.

Six MDC lawmakers have been arrested since the first poll and Tsvangirai was detained twice last week while campaigning.

Deputy Attorney-General Tomana told the Herald authorities had prosecuted over 80 cases of political violence.

"In some provinces it is almost 50-50, with both parties violating the law. We have treated both offenders equally, we deny them bail and speedily handle the cases," he said.

HRW called on the African Union and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to pressure Mugabe to end the violence and urged them to deploy strong poll observer teams.

It said violence had been particularly bad in the ZANU-PF's former rural strongholds where the MDC made significant gains in the March 29 elections.

The MDC's South Africa office said on Monday ZANU-PF was now using an armoured BMW vehicle confiscated from Tsvangirai last week to campaign in the countryside. The move was another indication of the ruling party's disregard for the rule of law, the MDC said. (Additional reporting by Nelson Banya and MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)




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