Zimbabwe opposition party complains of unprecedented persecution as state cracks down

Zimbabwe’s opposition party says it is suffering unprecedented persecution and state-sanctioned violence and claims it is unable to function as a political party as most of its rallies are banned.

Zimbabwe police beat up protesting MDC supporters in Harare CREDIT: AARON UFUMELI/EPA-EFE/REX

Zimbabwe’s opposition party says it is suffering unprecedented persecution and state-sanctioned violence and claims it is unable to function as a political party as most of its rallies are banned.

The MDC Alliance says the Zanu-PF government effectively prevented more than 200 planned rallies in the last few weeks, breaking some up with police raids.

On Sunday, when Nelson Chamisa, the MDC leader, attended a tree planting ceremony 45 miles south east of Harare, police released tear gas and there were reports of gunfire.

With inflation soaring at more than 400 per cent, the state appears terrified of rising civil protests.

Scores of MDC members, including high level officials, such as party organisers, have been arrested, beaten up or charged through the courts this year – more than at any time in the last ten years of former president Robert Mugabe’s rule. 

Professor Eldred Masunungure, senior political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, said: “This wave of terror by the state is the most vicious that the MDC has experienced and endured in the last decade.

An anti-riot police man in Zimbabwe beats a man in late November CREDIT: JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

“The regime is determined and has the capacity to damage the MDC in the same way it did during its reign of terror in 2008.”

About 200 MDC supporters and voters were killed during 2008 elections.

Charlton Hwende, recently elected Secretary-General of the MDC Alliance told The Daily Telegraph: “We have never had it as bad as this. We just can’t operate.”

He said: “They are trying to ban us. Last week I was at our headquarters when about 200 policemen came to the street because we tried to hold a meeting. So police beat up anyone they could.

“We believe some were soldiers in police uniform and others were Zanu-PF youth members in police uniform.”

Mr Hwende said the MDC had only been able to hold about 11 national rallies in the last year because of state interference.

Brian Raftopoulos, Mellon Senior Research Mentor at the Centre for Humanities Research at the University of the Western Cape, said the state and the police fear civil unrest as food prices spiral and the economic crisis deepens.

“This is a continuation of how the government responds to protests,” he said.

“Zanu-PF knows the economy is in ever deeper crisis and they can see no way of fixing it, so they are not prepared to tolerate any dissent.”

Mr Hwende said he lost his long-established cross-border trucking business earlier this year when he was arrested and charged with treason.

He describes the charges laid against him so far as “laughable” More than 20 people, mostly people connected to or members of the MDC Alliance, have been charged with treason in the last 18 months.

Mr Mugabe was ousted from power by Emmerson Mnangagwa two years ago and died in September.

Mr Mnangagwa narrowly won presidential elections last year, a victory the MDC Alliance, without evidence, continues to claim is illegitimate.

Doug Coltart, 29, a lawyer who regularly attends to victims of political violence, claims he was brutally assaulted by police at Harare Central Police Station last week while attending to a client.

“I was in the comptroller’s office making a complaint to a uniformed officer as I was denied access to my client.  “Police officers grabbed me in front of members of the public, and dragged me out,” he says. “They injured me… blood was spurting across my shirt.”

Senior government personnel and the police regulatory authority which issues or denies permits for political rallies did not respond to requests for comment.

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