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Suppression of Free Speech Alleged in Zimbabwe's Constitutional Outreach Process

The Movement for Democratic Change led by Prime MInister Morgan Tsvangirai charges that ZANU-PF and elements of the state security apparatus are trying to foist ZANU-PF's constitutional preferences on the Zimbabwean people

The Movement for Democratic Change formation of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Tsvangirai has accused its governing partner ZANU-PF of launching an operation intended to stifle public comment on the revision of the constitution in a bid to ensure that the eventual new basic document will reflect ZANU-PF political preferences.

MDC sources said ZANU-PF has launched "Operation Vhara Muromo," Shona for "Operation Close Your Mouth." The former opposition party said state security agents, soldiers and ZANU-PF militia members are attending outreach meetings and systematically intimidating members of public to ensure only approved views are expressed.

A statement released by the Tsvangirai MDC ahead of a series of rallies by the prime minister starting Saturday in Hwange, Matabeleland North province, charges that ZANU-PF and elements of the state security apparatus are trying to foist ZANU-PF's constitutional positions on the Zimbabwean people.

The MDC said the prominent war veteran Jabulani Sibanda with the help of ZANU-PF militia has been terrorizing villagers in Bikita West, Masvingo province, forcing them to back the so-called Kariba draft constitution in outreach sessions. Among other features the Kariba draft provides for strong presidential powers.

Mr. Tsvangirai, meanwhile, has encountered obstacles to his planned schedule of rallies. Police have said that they do not have enough manpower to provide security, obliging Mr. Tsvangirai to seek relief in court.

Tsvangirai MDC Organizing Secretary Morgan Komichi was arrested Tuesday when he went to Matebeleleland with an advance party to set up rallies in the region. A source in the independent civil society monitoring group which has been observing the process said ZANU-PF is organizing meetings in rural areas and coercing people to back its positions.

Tsvangirai MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa says the party is concerned by escalating violence.

But Munyaradzi Paul Mangwana, co-chairman of the parliamentary select committee in charge of the constitutional revision, countered that the MDC is misleading the nation on the issue of violence.

Elsewhere, select committee co-chairman Douglas Mwonzora of the Tsvangirai MDC formation dismissed a report published by the state-controlled Herald newspaper this week saying five legislators had abandoned the outreach process because they were unhappy about their allowances.

Mwonzora said some legislators resigned as outreach team leaders because they had been named to ministerial posts while others departed to pursue academic studies. He said all were replaced by their parties.