Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF party is using a network of informal detention centres to beat, torture, and intimidate opposition activists and ordinary Zimbabweans, Human Rights Watch said in a statement released in Lusaka on Saturday.
According to Human Rights Watch, victims and eyewitnesses said ZANU-PF had set up detention centres in the opposition constituencies of Mutoko North, Mutoko South, Mudzi, all in the province of Mashonaland East, and in Bikita West in the province of Masvingo to round up and instil fear in suspected political opponents.
“Torture and violence are surging in Zimbabwe,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa Director at Human Rights Watch.
“ZANU-PF members are setting up torture camps to systematically target, beat and torture people suspected of having voted for the MDC in last month’s elections. ”
It is alleged that during the day, ZANU-PF and their allies, the so-called “war veterans”, youth militias and some armed men in military uniform, gather at these camps to decide on their targets, generally those known or thought to support the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
According to witnesses, the targets are then rounded up and brought to the camps at night, where they are beaten for hours with thick wooden sticks and army batons.
Human Rights Watch says it has interviewed more than 30 people in the last two days who have sustained serious injuries, including broken limbs, as a result of these beatings.
Several individuals told Human Rights Watch that they had been held in these camps for up to three days and interrogated about MDC leaders, MDC funding and the location of other MDC supporters.
One eyewitness told Human Rights Watch that in Mutoko South he visited several ” torture camps,” including Lucky Dip, Rukada, and Jani. The eyewitness said that at another camp, Chitugazuwa, “I saw a woman who could not walk because she’d been so badly beaten.”
Human Rights Watch said that the camps could not operate without the complicity of senior officials in the security forces and government ministers.
“Should ZANU-PF force an annulment of the parliamentary vote and a presidential run-off, government bodies, the security forces and the judiciary will not have any credibility to ensure the political impasse is fairly and lawfully resolved,” said Human Rights Watch.
To date, Human Rights Watch said, the intergovernmental Southern African Development Community (SADC) and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who was appointed by SADC to mediate the crisis, had done little to try to curb ZANU-PF abuses and called on the African Union to immediately step in to address the crisis.
“The SADC and President Mbeki have completely failed Zimbabweans, and are allowing ZANU-PF to commit horrific abuses,” said Gagnon.
“The African Union should assume responsibility for protecting civilians from rising violence, and ending the political impasse before Zimbabwe sinks deeper into disaster,” Gagnon added.