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Mugabe toughens grip using torture05 December 2007
Stephen Bevan and Special Correspondents in Bulawayo, 3 December 2007: The Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, has stepped up the use of torture against political opponents, civil rights protesters and students in a bid to clamp down on dissent in the run-up to next year's elections.
Torture methods that were once used only by the feared Central Intelligence Organisation, Zimbabwe's internal security agency, are now routinely employed by uniformed police officers. Victims report that electric shock torture is being used to spread indiscriminate terror.
They have given vivid testimony of life behind the barbed-wire fences of Fairbridge camp, a sprawling police detention centre outside Zimbabwe's second biggest city, Bulawayo.
The testimony backs up claims by Zimbabwe's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), that the Government has stepped up its campaign of intimidation despite the continuing talks between the two sides mediated by the South African President, Thabo Mbeki.
The revelations from former camp inmates also raise further concerns about the decision by Portugal, which holds the presidency of the European Union, to invite the Zimbabwean leader to next weekend's EU Africa summit in Lisbon. The invitation has prompted the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to boycott the event, saying he will not share a table with a man guilty of "oppression and repression".
Fairbridge, which houses a feared police unit known as the "Black Boots", acts as a regional interrogation centre for southern Zimbabwe. Its bloodstained cells have been full in recent months as the Mugabe regime seeks to quell protests over the country's 8000 per cent inflation rate and chronic food and fuel shortages.
One victim, 33-year-old Mandla Nyathi, a Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions activist, told how he and five other union members were taken to Fairbridge after being arrested during a demonstration. "The police demanded to know the whereabouts of our leadership, and when we did not say the torture began."
Police officers took out whips and started lashing him. "When that failed they electrocuted me through the genitals. As I passed out I could hear my colleagues screaming in pain."
Some of the worst alleged abuses by police have been carried out upon members of the civil protest group Woman of Zimbabwe Arise, most of whom are ordinary mothers.
One activist, Angela Nkomo, revealed how she was taken to Fairbridge after taking part in a demonstration in Bulawayo early this year.
"We were forced to strip naked and lie on our stomachs before dozens of Black Boots beat us with baton sticks and leather belts," she said. "After that we were interviewed individually in a room full of male policemen while we were naked."
Another member, Clarah Makoni, 19, recalled how "the torture continued for hours".
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