Robert Mugabe supporters beyond reach of law as pre-poll violence surges


Supporters of president Robert Mugabe who attack political opponents are “beyond the reach of the law” in Zimbabwe, where thousands are living in fear of violence ahead of elections, Amnesty International warned yesterday.

Two years after a coalition government was sworn in, police are selectively applying the law, “turning a blind eye to violations by ZANU-PF supporters”, the rights group charged.

The warning came as justice minister Patrick Chinamasa gave the cle

arest indication yet that Mugabe will defy the terms of the coalition deal and call elections without a new constitution in place.

A surge in violence launched last month to prevent a Middle Eastern-style uprising has displaced more than 1,000 families, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai claims. Dozens have been arrested, beaten and taken in for questioning by police making no attempt to hide their allegiance to Mugabe, who has been in power here for the past 31 years.

Police chief Augustine Chihuri claimed yesterday that the violence was stage-managed by the MDCand Zimbabwe’s “detractors”, warning: “We will hammer them on the back.”

The MDC said the police now posed a “fresh, major threat” to freedom in the country.

Amnesty researchers in the capital Harare on 21 January saw police stand and watch as ZANU-PF youths beat up a teenager for taking photographs of a demonstration. The youths also attacked a young woman wearing an MDC T-shirt. “Anti-riot police monitoring the protest did not intervene to assist the victims,” even though both were seriously injured, the group said.

“Concrete reforms of the security sector are urgently needed before the next elections are held,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Director for Africa. “The security apparatus that instigated the 2008 political violence is still intact.”

Mugabe’s militias killed 200 MDC supporters after the president lost the first round of elections in 2008. Mr Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round.

Months of negotiations mediated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) followed, culminating in the signing of a coalition deal. The new government was eventually sworn in in February, 2009, supposed to last for 24 months.

In that time, SADC and AU leaders “have missed every opportunity to end human rights violations in Zimbabwe”, Amnesty International said. “Despite numerous trips to Harare by members of the mediation team headed by President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, no meaningful progress has been made in implementing key reforms meant to guarantee peace and security in the country,” the group said.

In the latest incidents this week, suspected state agents raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Youth Forum, demanding to know why the rights group was urging young people to register for the elections. Urban youth are the biggest supporters of the MDC.
The group was forced to close its offices.

In rural Chiredzi, 15 were reported injured after ZANU-PF youths demanded villagers fork “donations” towards Mugabe’s birthday celebrations. The president turns 87 on 21 February.

Analysts say the surge in violence shows Mugabe will bulldoze his way to quick elections.

Mr Chinamasa said yesterday “the ideal position” would be for the elections to be held under the old constitution if there are further delays to the constitution-making programme.

“After all, there is no guarantee the people will embrace the new constitution,” he said. Western donors have poured up to $70 million into the programme. State media has ignored much of the unrest in Egypt. But the independent newspaper Newsday has published text message warnings from readers to Mugabe in the wake of the protests: “Ship out before being pushed out by the masses,” one advised.