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Activists arrested for watching video on Middle East unrest

Labour movement activist Munyaradzi Gwisai was among the activists detained by the Zimbabwean state on 19 February and charged with treason
Labour movement activist Munyaradzi Gwisai was among the activists detained by the Zimbabwean state on 19 February and charged with treason

Links International

Zimbabwean police have arrested 46 people who attended a meeting to discuss the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, just days after the government threatened to crack down on any dissent inspired by the North Africa street protests, report Human Rights Watch and the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA). Some of them have been tortured in custody.

Union leaders, students and human rights activists were among the dozens arrested on 19 February for allegedly "subverting the government". They were watching a video about the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia when police raided the closed-door meeting, arrested the activists and confiscated computers and other equipment.

Forty-five of the 46 activists were formally charged either with treason - which carries a penalty of life in jail or death - or with attempting to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Political violence has been escalating in Zimbabwe in recent weeks, spearheaded by supporters of President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party. Human Rights Watch says that Mugabe loyalists are creating a climate of intimidation ahead of national elections proposed for this year, when Mugabe is expected to seek another term.

Tensions are visibly rising between Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who have been sharing power for the past two years after disputed and violent polls in 2008. In recent months, ZANU-PF youth have attacked scores of people, mainly MDC supporters, in Harare and its outskirts. Local civil society organisations alleged that police were arresting the victims of the violence - many of whom are MDC members - instead of the perpetrators, who they say are mainly Mugabe loyalists.

According to news reports, Defence Minister Emmerson Munangagwa, one of the most powerful Mugabe allies, warned recently that any attempt to emulate the events in Egypt would be crushed. Last month, five youths from the main opposition party disappeared after they allegedly celebrated the downfall of Egypt president Hosni Mubarak and chanted that Mugabe should follow. According to a Zimbabwe radio report, the five youths were abducted by unknown men suspected of belonging to Mugabe's spy agency.

MISA has endorsed a call to action by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal to send protest messages calling for all the charges to be dropped and the activists to be released.

Examples of protest statements can be found here, along with details of the authorities to address.
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