Tuesday, October 31, 2006

zim gov't cracks down on dissent

"...(New York, November 1, 2006) � In reaction to a recent wave of protests against deteriorating social and economic conditions in the country, the Zimbabwean government has intensified its campaign to suppress peaceful dissent, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 28-page report, "'You Will Be Thoroughly Beaten': The Brutal Suppression of Dissent in Zimbabwe," reveals the repressive tactics that the government has used against civil society activists in the past year.

Human Rights Watch has documented systematic abuses against activists, including excessive use of force by police during protests, arbitrary arrests and detention, and the use of torture and mistreatment by police and intelligence officials.

"When Zimbabweans engage in peaceful protest, the government responds with brutal repression," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities use torture, arbitrary arrest and detention to deter activists from engaging in their right to freely assemble and express their views." Political, social and economic conditions in Zimbabwe have deteriorated considerably in recent years.

Civil society organizations have increasingly expressed concerns at the worsening conditions by engaging in peaceful protests and demonstrations.

The government's response has been heavy-handed and brutal. Police have violently disrupted peaceful protests by beating demonstrators with batons and in some cases rifle butts. On September 25, for example, police violently disrupted a peaceful march by some 500 activists from the National Constitutional Assembly in Harare.

Riot police armed with batons stopped the march, asked the activists to sit down, and proceeded to beat them one at a time with batons before ordering them to leave. During the beatings, a number of people panicked, which led to a stampede that injured about 24 people, seven of them seriously.

Police have also used laws such as the Public Order and Security Act and the Miscellaneous Offences Act to justify the arbitrary arrest and detention of hundreds of civil society activists around the country. After arrest, most of the activists are released within hours, but some are held for days, often without charge. Others are brought before the judicial authorities to answer charges that, in many cases, are dismissed by the courts.

Civil society activists who had been detained told Human Rights Watch that they were often held in overcrowded and filthy conditions, with human waste on the floor and blankets infested with lice. The activists have sometimes been denied legal counsel and access to food, water and needed medical assistance....

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