Lupane, Zimbabwe - Zimbabwean authorities are continuing to enforce an illegal ban on public and private meetings in the country, and have filed criminal charges against a Catholic priest who organized a church service.
Additionally a government Minister in the national healing programme is also reported to be under arrest in Lupane, after he attended the Wednesday service.
According to the rights group Bulawayo Agenda, Father Marko Mabutho Mkandla was arrested Wednesday after he held a church service in Lupane, praying for peace in memory of victims and survivors of the Gukurahundi massacres of the mid-eighties.
In a shocking move, police have now hit him with four criminal charges related to the service. They are charging the priest under the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) for "holding a public meeting without police clearance". But the law only requires that the police are notified of any public events.
Mkandla is also being charged with "communicating false statements against the state" and "causing offence to a particular tribe", both under the Criminal Law Codification Act. He is scheduled to appear in court next Tuesday.
NewsDay newspaper reported that they have an audio recording of the Gukurahundi sermon given by Father Mkandla on Wednesday. They quoted the priest as saying: "We want the truth of what happened to be acknowledged and accepted by the whole nation. We want the nation to admit that they know what happened at Silozwi (village) and to acknowledge it so that we heal. We want to be allowed to talk about our pain. That is freedom."
The crackdown continued on Friday with the arrest of Minister Moses Mzila Ndlovu, who was on his way to meet three other co-Ministers in the Organ of National Healing and Reconciliation. They were due to make a presentation in Victoria Falls on the progress they have made in healing the nation. But Mzila Ndlovu never made it there when police ambushed him at a roadblock they had set up at Lupane.
Reports said he is also facing charges for conducting an illegal meeting.
Because of the arrest Edwin Ndlovu, a spokesperson for the MDC-N in Bulawayo, said the party had dropped plans to donate funds to the upcoming Independence Day celebrations because "there is no independence to celebrate".
The irony of Mzila Ndlovu's arrest is that he fought for freedom in the liberation war, under ZIPRA forces. He is being detained at Lupane police station.
Phillip Pasirayi from the Crisis Coalition explained that ZANU PF's strategy is "to try and silence all dissenting voices" ahead of planned elections in the country. He said the Mugabe regime has become desperate, to the point of denying people their right to conduct church services. But he said this may backfire on election day.
"When you push people against a wall they will have nowhere else to go but back towards the oppressor," Pasirayi added.
Pasirayi pointed to a recent Crisis Coalition report that said ZANU PF is bombarding the country with propaganda, embarking on a terror campaign against the MDC and civic society and applying the law selectively.