Zimbabwe Lawmaker Describes Beatings of Activists

By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 15, 2007

JOHANNESBURG, March 14 -- Zimbabwean police ordered opposition lawmaker Nelson Chamisa to lie on the ground Sunday afternoon and then kicked, punched and whipped him and beat him with batons, he said.

But the brutality Chamisa suffered, he said, was mild compared with what he saw meted out to party leader Morgan Tsvangirai in an incident that has sparked outrage in Zimbabwe and around the world.

Police had broken up a major opposition rally in Highfield, a township west of the capital, Harare, and began attacking Chamisa and other opposition figures at a police station. When Tsvangirai arrived, more than 20 officers -- some in uniform, others not -- directed their fury at him, Chamisa said.

Over the next 20 minutes, police attacked Tsvangirai with such ferocity that he collapsed on three occasions, apparently unconscious, Chamisa recounted in an interview from Harare on Wednesday. At one point, police dumped water on Tsvangirai to revive him, then resumed beating him. They also hurled Tsvangirai, 55, a beefy former union activist, against the wall, Chamisa said.

"You are a traitor!" the police shouted at Tsvangirai, according to Chamisa. "We are going to kill you today!"

Tsvangirai did not respond, nor did he shout out from the pain, Chamisa said. "He's a strong man."

The beatings have fueled anger that activists are working to fashion into a sustained anti-government campaign against President Robert Mugabe, 83. The outrage, both domestically and from international leaders, has developed into the most serious threat in several years to his almost 27-year-old rule.

The police attacks began as leaders of Zimbabwe's fractured opposition gathered to launch a new "Save Zimbabwe" campaign. One activist was shot dead and about 50 were arrested. Riot police used water cannons and tear gas to restore order and have increased patrols across Harare in the days since.

Those arrested appeared in court Tuesday looking battered and bloodied. Shortly before midnight, police freed them without filing charges. Several with the most severe injuries ended up in intensive care; others were treated by doctors and released.

Doctors admitted Tsvangirai to intensive care Tuesday night and scanned his head Wednesday for evidence of a possible skull fracture and other internal injuries that may explain why he seemed, according to several reports, dazed and unable to speak clearly after the attack Sunday. He also had a deep gash on his head that was stitched up and a badly swollen right eye.

Opposition leaders spoke confidently of rallies to come, despite a ban on demonstrations. A long-planned national strike has been scheduled for April 5, though the next major action could come sooner.

Government officials have vowed to meet any new protests with force. "Those who incite violence, or actually cause and participate in unleashing it, are set to pay a very heavy price, regardless of who they are," Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu said in a statement.

Late Wednesday, police surrounded the Harare headquarters of Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, and arrested two executives from the party's offices in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second-largest city, the Reuters news service reported.

Raymond Majongwe, head of the Zimbabwe Progressive Teachers Union, met with Tsvangirai and another injured activist, Lovemore Madhuku, head of the National Constitutional Assembly, in the intensive care ward Wednesday.

"They are in very high spirits and are exuberant," Majongwe said from Harare. "They are ready to continue where they left off."

Chamisa said: "Zimbabweans are ready to fight. They are definitely ready to fight. The regime's days are numbered."

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