Sources in the Zimbabwe military say the government has established a state security force drawn from the army, the police and the feared Central Intelligence Organization to tamp down popular discontent that could fuel the kinds of mass protests that the opposition Movement for Democratic Change says it hopes to organize.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the sources said the task force has been told to instill fear in the populace to counteract opposition efforts to mobilize Zimbabweans against the government of President Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.
Human rights groups say the task force is behind a recent wave of violence against critics of the government. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum reported 19 cases of official torture, 32 instances of assault and 46 unlawful arrests in March, bringing the total of documented illegal arrests in the first three months of the year to 336.
That total increased this month as some 80 members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a protest group, were arrested last week in Bulawayo for protesting against a sharp rise in school fees. In Harare, police released 48 students arrested Friday for vandalising a portrait of President Mugabe in public meeting rooms where they had assembled.
The MDC says official violence directed against its members is on the rise with reports of such abuses in Harare, Mutare, Gokwe and Marondera.
For perspective on this reported trend, reporter Blessing Zulu for VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe turned to South African based human rights lawyer Daniel Molokela.
Reporter Zulu sought comment on the alleged instances of official violence from State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who rejected the allegations.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...