Armed masked abductors new agents of terror in Zimbabwe — Watchdog

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State security is increasingly using armed and masked agents to abduct citizens before and after protests, the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum says in its latest report.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has since July been kept on its toes by a series of popular demonstrations as the economy heads for the cliff while poverty spreads and human rights abuses spike.

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The government is struggling to raise revenue for civil servants’ and soldiers’ salaries, a cash crisis that manifested in April threatens economic collapse and opposition political parties are increasingly getting restless for electoral reforms before the 2018 general elections.

As civil disobedience grows, government’s response has become more heavy-handed.

“A disturbing new trend has emerged, whereby people are abducted by armed, masked groups of unknown assailants or military personnel either the night before planned demonstrations or immediately following demonstrations.

“Of particular note is the increased carrying of weapons by perpetrators during incidents of targeted violence and abduction. As in previous weeks, the abductions and torture are a response to the increase in vocal discontent across the country,” noted the forum.

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Torture has become rampant, with protesters or innocent passersby reporting severe assaults, starvation and intimidation during incarceration.

“The victims of state security agents are targeted for exercising fundamental freedoms, including the freedom to demonstrate and petition, and freedom of association, assembly and expression. State agents are using torture and abductions to interrogate and intimidate activists and citizens.

“It is an indictment against the government that state organised violence and torture continue to be used as a tool for interrogation and intimidation, despite being prohibited in the new constitution,” added the forum.

In slightly over two weeks in September, “28 victims of organised violence and torture sought treatment for their injuries”, according to the human rights watchdog.

Among the latest abductees is Silvanos Mudzvova, who was reportedly forcibly taken away from his home and ended up at a private hospital after being left for dead by gun-toting men suspected to be security servicemen.

Police have twice banned civil protests, but the first one was reversed while an application against the second that will run till 16 October is before the High Court.

The watchdog said many of the protests for electoral reforms and against corruption, rising poverty and unpopular government policies were violently broken up by the riot police, resulting in arbitrary arrests of many people.

The police used tear smoke, baton sticks, water cannons and, last Saturday, live ammunition to disperse demonstrators

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