Fri, Apr 27, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Opposition leader tells of oppression by Mugabe regime

TOUGH TIMES Grace Kwinjeh described a worsening situation and the brutal treatment she said she suffered at the hands of security forces


A leader of Zimbabwe's opposition described how she was tortured for attending a prayer meeting last month and called for an international campaign to end the abduction, arrests and beatings of opponents of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Grace Kwinjeh, who said she is still receiving treatment for an internal head injury and other injuries from the March 11 attack, called herself and a 64-year-old woman who eventually were allowed to go to South Africa for medical treatment "the two lucky ones" because they are out of Zimbabwe.

Kwinjeh spoke on Wednesday at a news conference at the UN Correspondents Association that was organized by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. It is part of the Open Society Institute founded by global philanthropist George Soros.

In Zimbabwe, demonstrations and a national strike in the past month have been thwarted largely by the heavy deployment of police and troops and violent police action that crushed the March 11 prayer meeting that the government said was a political protest banned under sweeping security laws.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change, and other pro-democracy activists including Kwinjeh, the movement's deputy secretary for international relations, were assaulted by police while under arrest.

Kwinjeh told how she was beaten with an iron bar and lost part of an ear.

"After they tortured me, I stayed for about 72 hours without access to my lawyers," she said.

She said she ended up in hospital under guard by riot police and a gun pointed at her, but the High Court eventually ordered the riot police to leave "since there was no credible case against us."

Because of her head wound, arrangements were made for her and the other woman to go to South Africa, but they were stopped at the airport and spent another four days in hospital under riot police guard before lawyers got a court order for the two to leave for six weeks.

After they landed in South Africa, she said, 28 colleagues were rearrested, tortured, hospitalized and then taken from the hospital to prison where five are in a "very bad state," barely able to move or eat.

"After what I went through, I thought an international campaign for these 28 colleagues" should be launched, said Kwinjeh, who spent five weeks in a South African hospital before flying to New York.

"I really thank God that I'm lucky to be out here to be able to tell my story. But ... I can't tell my story without bringing to attention Zimbabweans who are being attacked every day," she said.

"So far, over 600 of our activists have been abducted. In the Movement for Democratic Change half of our staff have been arrested on charges of treason. So that is the increased repression, that is what the opposition in Zimbabwe is faced with," Kwinjeh said.

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