A U.S. State Department spokesman Tuesday rejected the contention by Zimbabwean Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu that his government's crackdown on opposition officials and members is a response to domestic terrorism, and further that the United States government was supporting such alleged opposition activities.
"Unfortunately, the the only kind of terror-style tactics that...we've seen have been those used by the government on the legitimate, peaceful political opposition in that country," Deputy State Department Spokesman Tom Casey told VOA.
Ndlovu said in an interview with VOA earlier Tuesday that "the U.S. is sponsoring this activity...they are sponsoring terrorist activities, covert operations against a legitimate, legally elected government, democratically elected government."
He was referring to several firebomb attacks in late March against police posts, among other targets, which authorities cited as justification for a March 28 raid on the Harare headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, who was severely beaten following his arrest on March 11.
In recent weeks suspected state agents have abducted and severely beaten scores of MDC officials and members as well as civic activists in what the opposition says is an orchestrated effort to crush the opponents of President Robert Mugabe, who has announced his intention to run for another term in office in March 2008.
The State Department's Case deplored the pattern of violence.
"It's shocking and appalling to see opposition leaders who are trying to simply demonstrate their views or trying to organize discussions about the political future of the country be savagely beaten by the security forces, be hauled off to jail, be denied medical treatment and later as in some cases be denied even the opportunity to seek that treatment after they've been freed," Casey said.
Opposition sources said Tuesday that state agents have widened their crackdown to target the families of MDC and civic activists who have gone into hiding.
Intelligence sources told VOA that the operation has expanded to Bulawayo and Masvingo from Harare and Mutare. They said the Central Intelligence Organization, the military Zimbabwe Intelligence Corps, police and the youth militia have established provincial bases around the country to extend the crackdown on the opposition.
Sources said the official aim is to infiltrate the opposition and coerce or persuade members to give them information about what officials call the “Democratic Resistance Movement” that is alleged to have mounted the short-lived firebombing campaign.
MDC officials say the state security apparatus staged the bombings itself to justify the crackdown ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2008.
Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa said 40 members are in detention and that most of them have been tortured. National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku said many of his members are in hiding and out of contact.
Opposition sources said police in Bulawayo arrested two Tsvangirai faction members - deputy youth provincial chairman Bhekithemba Ndlovu and MDC executive member Sikhulekile Nkala. Faction Vice President Thokozane Khupe said she fears their lives could be in danger following reports they were handed over to the CIO.
Sources said about 16 male Tsvangirai faction activists have been hiding since before Easter weekend in the bush at Hopeley Farm, a settlement south of Harare where the government dumped people displaced by its 2005 forced eviction and demolition campaign called Operation Murambatsvina (Shona for "Drive Out Rubbish").
But their families said they are terrorized daily by police and youth militia members and accused of belonging to the so-called resistance movement. Some told VOA that they have been severely beaten by official and paramilitary security forces.
Tsitsi Mikitai, gender chairwoman for Harare for the National Constitutional Assembly, a leading civic organization, was attacked in the Mufakose section of Harare Monday and beaten by suspected state agents, opposition sources said.
Amnesty International said in its latest reporter that trade unionists Edward Dzeka and Joyce Muwoni have gone into hiding after receiving threatening phone calls from the police who told them to surrender for questioning about "illegal" union activities. The group said Dzeka was tortured after being arrested by the police in September.
National Constitutional Assembly Harare Regional Chairman Amos Phiri, now gone underground, told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he was waylaid in the Harare satellite town of Chitungwiza by suspected state agents who tried to abduct him, and who continued to threaten him by telephone.
A lawyer for the Tsvangirai faction said 33 MDC officers, staff and members were being held by police on various charges, and that 19 of them, many of whom were abducted or arrested in the past week, have been denied legal counsel.
Harare lawyer Alec Muchadehama said two senior opposition officials and a member were in court Monday for a bail hearing. MDC Mashonaland East Organizing Secretary Pineal Denga, charged with possessing dangerous weapons, was denied bail, according to Muchadehama.
The cases of Tsvangirai advisor Ian Makoni and member Ray Bake, in court Tuesday, were deferred to Wednesday, Muchadehama said. The three men were abducted, beaten and later arrested for alleged possession of “dangerous arms.” Also due in court Wednesday were 11 party staff members arrested March 28 when police raided the Tsvangirai faction’s Harare headquarters - they will seek release on bail.
Muchadehama said another 19 faction officials and members, among them Paul Madzore, member of parliament for Harare's Glenview district, and his brother Solomon, were held by police who refused to let Muchadehama see them.
Muchadehama told reporter Patience Rusere that the charges against his clients are frivolous and appear to be based solely on their opposition membership.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...