By Craig Timberg
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Zimbabwean police detained opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai for eight hours Wednesday and charged him with violating public order for campaigning ahead of the country's June 27 presidential runoff election, party officials said.
Tsvangirai was traveling between a campaign stop in the western town of Lupane and a rally in nearby Tsholotso when police stopped him at a roadblock shortly after noon, his spokesman George Sibotshiwe said. Tsvangirai was detained for four hours at the roadblock, then for four hours at a police station before he was charged under Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act and released. Several other party officials were held with him.
No court date has been scheduled. Charges related to political activity in Zimbabwe are often dropped or quickly dismissed amid scant evidence of wrongdoing.
"It's just an effort to destabilize our campaign program," party spokesman Nelson Chamisa said in Harare, the capital.
Police have severely restricted most forms of political activity since the March 29 vote in which Tsvangirai beat President Robert Mugabe but failed to get the clear majority necessary to claim a first-round victory. Tsvangirai has maintained that he won outright victory but that he was denied power by election officials beholden to Mugabe.
Tsvangirai has been repeatedly arrested, threatened and beaten over the past eight years as Zimbabwe's most prominent opposition leader. He spent seven weeks abroad after the election before returning to campaign in Zimbabwe on May 24.
With the runoff looming, ruling party activists have rampaged across Zimbabwe's countryside in what human rights activists have called the worst political violence and intimidation in two decades. Several dozen opposition party activists have been killed, including at least three attacked in a party office in the southeastern town of Jerera on Tuesday night, witnesses said. Two were injured, and four others are missing.
A witness said more than a dozen men arrived shortly before midnight carrying automatic weapons and singing ruling party songs. After three people in the opposition office were shot to death, the building was set on fire. Jerera, like most of the places where attacks have occurred in recent months, is a former ruling party stronghold where Tsvangirai had a strong showing against Mugabe in the March vote.
By the time Tsvangirai was released Wednesday, darkness had fallen and he did not attend the scheduled rally. Instead, he met with top party officials to determine how to continue campaigning amid increasingly aggressive police tactics.
"They will try to kill, try to assault, try to butcher people, but they won't succeed," Chamisa said.