Zimbabwe: Increasing Violence Worries Churches

Harare, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwean church groups have added their voices to increasing worries about violence across the country, with the Christian Alliance seeking an urgent meeting with police commissioner Augustine Chihuri.

Incidents of intimidation and violence have been escalating across the country, and most recently hundreds of residents from Mbare and Epworth were forced to seek temporary shelter at a church in Glen Norah. The Christian Alliance on Sunday demanded a meeting with the police commissioner, in an effort to end the harassment of the displaced residents, after police raided the church.

The group was forced to flee their homes after ZANU PF youths went on the rampage, intimidating and harassing MDC supporters, looting property and destroying independent newspapers. The church was able to offer temporary sanctuary, and hundreds of men, women and children were sleeping in a tent on the church grounds. Police however raided the church last week, forcing many of the residents to flee again, this time to Salveira House. Last Thursday, Salveira House was also raided by police, twice in one day, leaving the displaced residents frightened and nervous of more intimidation.

Ronald Mureverwi from the rights group Restoration of Human Rights (ROHR) on Monday said that Mbare was once again a hot zone of harassment. He said that ZANU PF members were understood to have once again disrupted businesses in the high density suburb, with no intervention from the police. Mureverwi lambasted the partisan nature of the police, but laid the blame squarely on the government and "their reluctance to enforce security laws."

"They are complicit in the violence that we see. They need to stop what has been happening, but they are not doing anything," Mureverwi said.

The partisan nature of the police force has been clearly on display in recent weeks, with police officials only arresting MDC victims of harassment and violence. Police Commissioner Chihuri meanwhile has been called on to explain the situation, but last week snubbed a meeting with the co-Ministers of Home Affairs, the MDC-T's Theresa Makone and ZANU PF's Kembo Mohadi. The two ministers held the meeting without Chihuri, but were reportedly unable to reach agreement on who is responsible for the violence.

In the meantime, ZANU PF supporters have also been attacking independent newspaper distributors and destroying the papers, in what media rights groups say is a deliberate ploy to stifle access to information. Munn Marketing, the distributors of Alpha Media Holdings' three newspapers and several leading South African publications, said this weekend that attacks against its vendors by ZANU PF supporters and suspected state agents have intensified countrywide.

Nick Ncube, the company's operations manager, said vendors reported that people who were seen buying NewsDay, The Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent were being harassed. He said many vendors were now reluctant to sell the papers, fearing for their lives.

Media watchdog group MISA-Zimbabwe said in a statement that the destruction of newspapers is; "An attack to freedom of expression and the citizens of Zimbabwe's right to access information." The group called on the regional bloc, SADC, "to impress upon the country's three main political parties that the media remains an integral part of any democratic political transition processes."

"Zimbabwe's media plays a critical role in keeping the citizenry informed on the current transitional process and in particular at this juncture, the hyped constitutional referendum and elections. The media should therefore be allowed to operate freely," MISA Zimbabwe said.

The Voluntary Media Council of Zimbabwe has also condemned the attacks on the newspaper vendors, calling on the police to "fully and impartially investigate the incidences of violence and bring the perpetrators to justice."

"We also call upon all political parties in the country to warn their supporters to refrain from attacking newspaper vendors and destroying newspapers as this infringes on freedom of expression and denies Zimbabweans an opportunity to have multiple sources of information," the group said in a statement.