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U.S. State Department, Open Society Catalogue Zimbabwe Rights Abuses

The United States government and a leading international nongovernmental organization have separately accused the Zimbabwean government of stepping up its use of violence and torture as national elections approach in 2008.

The U.S. State Department called 2007 "the worst year yet for defenders of freedom in Zimbabwe," while the Open Society Institute of Southern Africa said rising political violence is undermining the democratic process in Zimbabwe and is creating a presumption that next year's elections will not be free and fair.

The State Department report said beatings, arrests and abductions continue unabated with more than 500 cases of human rights abuses reported each month in 2007, with 3,463 victims seeking treatment so far this year - nearly triple the total for 2006.

A chronology of events issued by the State Department covering February through the end of November said that violence against opponents of the government "continues, even as regional leaders work to establish dialogue between the regime and the opposition," referring to South African mediated crisis negotiations.

"Government forces continue to employ arbitrary arrest, abduction, torture and other abuse, including beatings with whips and cables, suspension, and electric shock to repress civil and political freedoms on a massive scale," it charged.

The Open Society said its report is based on data from health professionals who have evaluated and documented cases of political violence including torture since March, when an acute political crisis developed in Zimbabwe which brought on a period of numerous abductions and beatings, with some deaths, allegedly by state agents.

The Open Society concluded that the government has systematically used torture and violence to repress its political opposition. It said state security agents were also harassing lawyers and doctors seeking to assist the victims of violence.

"Since early 2007 the country has been subject to an upsurge in political violence that has seriously undermined the democratic process and created a presumption that (the 2008) elections will nto be free and fair," the Open Society report states.

"State-sponsored political violence directed toward any individuals or groups who are perceived to be critical of President Robert Mugabe, his government or his policies, manifests a strategy to demobilize" citizens from organized opposition, it said.

The Open Society called on South African President Thabo Mbeki, principal mediator of the crisis resolution talks, to "use his role as a democratic leader in the Southern African community to uphold international standards" against violence and torture.

Human rights lawyer Otto Saki told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he believes the explanation for the surge in violence is that President Mugabe determined to win re-election for himself and his party at all cost.

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