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Zimbabweans detail abduction spree

Fresh details of recent abductions, beatings, and forced confessions of Zimbabwe's opposition leaders and civic activists emerged Tuesday during a press conference.

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The MDC's numbers are slightly higher than those kept by rights groups, such as the Harare-based Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. According to that organization, eight non-MDC activists have been detained along with Jestina Mukoko, the founder of the Zimbabwe Peace Project; seven MDC activists soon joined them at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison and Chikurubi Female Prison.

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"Behind the political crisis and health emergency, there is a worsening human rights crisis in Zimbabwe, with the most recent development being this unprecedented spate of abductions of human rights defenders," said Irene Khan, secretary general of Amnesty International's branch in South Africa. "This shows the audacity of a regime that is desperate to stay in power…. The only way out of this problem is through unified pressure from outside, in particular of African leaders."

While Zimbabwe police first denied having MDC members and civic activists like Ms. Mukoko in custody, they later admitted the activists were under arrest, and charged them with recruiting young men to train in guerrilla warfare and sabotage in alleged training camps in neighboring Botswana. Activists under trial have testified that they were tortured, like Pasipamire, into signing false confessions.

Mukoko, in her sworn court testimony, and Pasipamire, in his recorded statement before legal counsel, have both alleged that officers of Zimbabwe's feared Central Intelligence Organization beat them on the feet with heavy rubber cords.

In Pasipamire's case, a CIO warrant officer named Mabhunu also allegedly sexually assaulted him, and tried to force him to kill a mutinous Zimbabwe army soldier with a crowbar, in front of a TV camera.

"I don't want you to suffer, but we do need your help," Pasipamire recalls Mabhunu telling him during an interrogation. "All I want you to do is to kill one of the soldiers we have here at the camp. The soldiers have already been beaten; they won't fight with you. But I need you to hit one of them on the head with this and kill him. Can you do that for me?"

"I have never killed anyone in my life. I can't do that," Pasipamire recalls saying.

"OK, can you pretend to do it?" Mabhunu allegedly replied.

The next morning, Pasipamire and other men were "made to pretend" to beat a young soldier in camouflage uniform, while a TV camera filmed them. He then confessed on TV to having beaten soldiers and murdered at least one, on the order or Mr. Tsvangirai.

Afterward, he recalls, "one of the officials patted me on the shoulder and said, 'Don't worry if it is true or not. It's what we need, nothing more.' "

After four days, Pasipamire escaped from the torture camp, assisted by sympathetic members of the CIO.

"There are some inside ZANU-PF and CIO who do not believe in what they are doing," he says, adding that he cannot say more without endangering those who remain in Zimbabwe.

Pasipamire also thinks that Mugabe's tactics will not hold down Zimbabweans forever. "People see if you don't do anything, then there [will be] no change," he says. "But if you push, then things will change. I can't say when, but someday, I'm sure everything is going to be OK in Zimbabwe."