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Rights Group Accuses Zimbabwe Government Of Systematic Repression

New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report Wednesday on the crackdown by the government of Zimbabwe against its political and civic opposition over the past six weeks, concluding that that crisis mediation by South African President Thabo Mbeki is unlikely to yield results unless such alleged abuses are halted.

Entitled "Bashing Dissent - Escalating Violence and State Repression in Zimbabwe," the report cites "widespread and systematic abuses" against the opposition and said Zimbabwean authorities "have repeatedly breached and violated" civil rights through "intimidation, arbitrary arrests, abductions and beatings" by state agents.

Human Rights Watch says Zimbabwean police and other security forces have been abducting, beating and torturing opposition members and those suspected of being opposition supporters since March 11, when Movement for Democratic Change activist Gift Tandare was shot to death during a protest.

The human rights group says arbitrary arrests, detentions and brutal beatings by police and security forces increased through March and April and were continuing.

Harare has issued its own version of events, entitled “Opposition Forces in Zimbabwe; A Trail of Violence,” saying the opposition is to blame for mounting political violence in the Southern African country and is responsible for a spate of firebomb attacks.

Human Rights Watch said it is "highly unlikely" the Zimbabwe crisis can be resolved unless the Southern African Development Community leaders who in March asked Mr. Mbeki to mediate it "start talking openly about the human rights violations being committed by the Zimbabwean government and demand an end to them."

Human Rights Watch said it believes meaningful engagement between Zimbabwe's opposition and ruling party "can only take place if President Mugabe brings a robust human rights agenda to the mediation table." It urged Mr. Mbeki to call on Harare to "rebuild the institutions that ensure respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law," repeal repressive legislation, and provide for free and fair elections.

Human Rights Watch Zimbabwean specialist Tiseke Kasambala told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that halting Harare’s crackdown on the opposition must be made the cornerstone of President Mbeki’s mediation process.

Zimbabwean rights activists backed the report's conclusions and recommendations, said SADC leaders must increase pressure on Harare to halt the mistreatment of opposition and civic leaders, and agreed Mr. Mbeki must take a new tack.

Reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyelye of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Gabriel Shumba, executive director of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum in South Africa, and Dewa Mavhinga, a Harare-based human rights lawyer.

Meanwhile, a Harare magistrate on Wednesday dismissed applications by lawyers for jailed members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change faction of MDC founder Morgan Tsvangirai asking that charges against their clients be dropped.

Lawyer Andrew Makoni said Zimbabwe's supreme court meanwhile rejected another application arguing that their detention and alleged torture were unconstitutional.

The applications were made on behalf of 13 members and officials of the MDC faction facing charges of banditry and sabotage. Those detained included Glenview, Harare, member of parliament Paul Madzore, among other officials of the faction.

Those 13 and 18 other detained members of the opposition are alleged to have been beaten and tortured while in custody.

Makoni told reporter Patience Rusere he was surprised at the supreme court ruling because he believes his clients rights were clearly violated by the police.

Elsewhere, another member of the MDC faction was reported to have been abducted Wednesday morning by suspected agents of the Central Intelligence Organization.

Godfrey Kauzani, whose brother was already in police custody, was said to have been taken from his home, opposition sources said.

Tsvangirai MDC faction security officer Bensen Muchineuta told Carole Gombakomba that Kauzani’s whereabouts remained unknown as of late Wednesday

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...