Zimbabwe's political crisis has intensified with the shooting death on the weekend of a supporter of the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai followed by the arrest of much of the leadership of both opposition factions. Legal and other sources said some arrested MDC officials had been severely beaten.
However, Harare High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu ruled late Tuesday that those arrested must be allowed to seek medical attention and consult with their lawyers, and should be arraigned before noon on Tuesday, failing which they were to be released.
The ruling responded to an urgent application for relief by the lawyers of the detained.
Police opened fire on demonstrators in the Harare suburb of Highfield after blocking a prayer meeting there, killing Glenview activist Gift Tandare, who was said to leave a wife and three children. The prayer meeting had been called by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, an umbrella group for church and civic groups and political parties.
The police intervention and shooting drew an immediate response from Washington. The State Department condemned Harare's “brutal and unwarranted actions” against citizens “peacefully gathered to exercise their legitimate democratic rights.”
Tsvangirai's lawyer, Innocent Chagonda, said his client was badly beaten with injuries to the head and his lower limbs, as he was limping when Chagonda last saw him.
Police also arrested National Constitutional Assembly Chairman Lovemore Madhuku, who sustained a fractured arm and head laceration. Sources at Parirenyatwa Hospital said Tsvangirai and Madhuku were treated there early Monday under police guard.
The Save Zimbabwe Campaign issued a statement late Monday saying others beaten or tortured by police included spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Tsvangirai faction, a member of parliament, the chairman of the Combined Harare Residents Association, Mike Davis, and Tsvangirai faction deputy treasurer Elton Mangoma.
The organization cited “disturbing reports” that MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara is missing with no information available on his whereabouts or condition.
The Tsvangirai faction held a news conference Monday at which its acting president, Thokozani Khupe, demanded Tsvangirai and the others be released, and denounced the government of President Robert Mugabe, which she said had to go.
Speaking for the government, Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that police were justified in using deadly force because they faced a crowd which was armed and dangerous.
Lawyer Harrison Nkomo, representing Mutambara, said he was assaulted by a police officer at Highfield Police Station as he attempted to inquire about his client.
The Save Zimbabwe Campaign condemned what it called “thuggery” reminiscent of the pre-1980 Rhodesian era, saying Harare’s tough response would not stop it.
Coordinator Jacob Mafume of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, an organizer of the ill-fated prayer meeting, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that the movement has gained strength from this week's traumatic events.
A regional human rights organization said Harare’s use of deadly force violated human rights. Executive Director Noel Kututwa of the Southern Africa Human Rights Trust told reporter Carole Gombakomba that Harare is violating international rights codes that prohibit torture or the assault of any individual by a government.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for human rights urged Harare to release injured opposition and civic leaders to a medical facility for urgent treatment.
Political analyst and University of Zimbabwe lecturer John Makumbe said the Mugabe government has resorted to desperate measures because it is cornered.