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Satirical plays banned; police torture production manager, assault actor

(WiPC/IFEX) - The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN (WiPC) strongly protests attacks against the cast and crew of the satirical play "The Crocodile of Zambezi" and its banning by police in Bulawayo in May 2008. According to the WiPC's sources, production manager Lionel Nkosi was tortured and threatened with death, and actor Aleck Zulu was beaten by police. The WiPC believes that the attacks against these individuals, in the context of the targeting and banning of other critical plays, indicate a generalised threat to the entire company of "The Crocodile of Zambezi", particularly the authors. It is deeply concerned for the safety of playwrights and all others associated with such plays in Zimbabwe, and calls on the authorities to respect their right to freedom of expression and to cease attacks against them.

On the afternoon of 29 May 2008, police officers came to the City Hall in Bulawayo, where rehearsals were taking place for the second performance of "The Crocodile of Zambezi". Nkosi and Zulu were taken to the central police station and told that the play could not continue. The police reportedly stated that they had been told to "censor or stop any suspicious performances". Nkosi and Zulu agreed to stop the show, returned to City Hall and packed up.

When Nkosi and Zulu were about to leave, they were stopped by four men in an unmarked car parked outside without registration plates, who asked Nkosi to get in. He was driven to an isolated location, where the men questioned him about the play and its backers, accusing it of ridiculing President Mugabe. According to Nkosi, the men threatened to kill him, then placed a sack over his head and beat him severely, at one point shoving a gun into his mouth. The attack left him covered in blood and with a fractured ankle, bruised ribs and gums and a loose tooth. According to some reports, Nkosi's assailants were members of the secret service.

These attacks are part of a generalised crackdown on freedom of expression and other rights in Zimbabwe prior to the presidential election run-off scheduled for 27 June. Another satirical play about Zimbabwe's political situation was also banned in Harare in May (see below) and there have been numerous attacks on the press.

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