Supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party in Zimbabwe tortured more than 70 people, including six men to death, in a "re-education" meeting on May 5, 2008 in Mashonaland Central, Human Rights Watch said.
The government's campaign of organized terror and violence against the political opposition is continuing despite agreement to hold a presidential runoff election.
"Political compromise over the runoff election has not reduced government atrocities against the opposition," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "With the setting of a June 27 runoff, concerned governments have a greater obligation than ever to press the government to bring the violence to a halt."
Human Rights Watch field investigations confirmed the deaths from torture of six men punished for their real or presumed support for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), and the torture of more than 70 others on May 5. Many were MDC supporters, but one who died was tortured because he owned a radio, which raised his attackers' suspicions.
Retired Major Cairo Mhandu with ZANU-PF youths, members of a youth militia and "war veterans," held a "re-education" meeting in Chaona primary school in Mashonaland Central in which some 300 villagers from Chiweshe and three neighboring villages were forced to attend. Eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that Mhandu addressed the meeting saying, "This community needs to be taught a lesson. It needs re-education. We want people to come forward and confess about their links with the MDC and surrender to ZANU-PF."
When no one came forward, a ZANU-PF youth grabbed a 76-year-old woman and forced her to lie on her stomach in front of the crowd and started beating her buttocks with logs. After a few minutes, three men intervened, saying they were MDC, to stop the beating. Mhandu encouraged more to come forward, saying, "This is what we want."
Participants at the meeting said the organizers had drawn up a long list of suspected MDC activists, 20 of whom were singled out for torture. As they were beaten, the abusers taunted each to reveal names of at least five other activists. Some of the victims shouted out names of people, who were then beaten.
Eyewitnesses said the torture continued throughout the day. The ZANU-PF youth and "war veterans" would beat three or four people at one time. Legs tied and handcuffed, women were stripped naked or down to their underwear and forced to lie on their stomachs together with men. Their mouths were bound to prevent them from screaming.
Standing on either side of each victim, three youths with thick sticks took turns to beat them on the legs, back and buttocks. Some men also had wire tied around their genitals and suffered severe damage. More than 70 people were beaten and some 30 hospitalized, many requiring skin grafts.
Human Rights Watch has confirmed that two men died on the spot, one died at home of injuries, and three others died later at the hospital. Three of those who died had severely mutilated genitals and one had crushed testicles. Medical reports confirm the deaths were a direct result of the injuries sustained under torture. The authorities have not arrested anyone for these criminal acts. These 're-education' meetings are still taking place.
In March 2008, the MDC decisively defeated the ruling ZANU-PF in the parliamentary elections. The MDC also won the presidential elections, but the official results did not give MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai an absolute majority, necessitating a runoff election. On May 16, the date of the runoff was set for June 27, 2008.
In the wake of the elections, ZANU-PF and its allies set up torture camps in opposition strongholds and areas where the opposition has gained significant support (http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2008/04/19/zimbab18604.htm). On May 7, the Zimbabwean army acknowledged the existence of torture camps and has tried to distance itself from any responsibility. Shortly after, the police stated their intention to dismantle them. The government, however, has taken no action against any perpetrators, but has merely sought to portray without any evidence that responsibility for the torture camps also resides with the MDC.
Human Rights Watch called upon the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to take all available measures to provide for the protection of all Zimbabweans in the period before the runoff. Should SADC be unable to fulfill this role, the African Union should do so.
"For any runoff to have credibility, this escalating government-sponsored violence must stop, investigations must lead to the arrest of key suspected perpetrators and human rights monitors must be deployed throughout Zimbabwe," Gagnon said. "African election observers are desperately needed, but they will accomplish little if the rampant violence continues."