Police in Zimbabwe detained a group of Western diplomats for a brief period on Tuesday after the ambassadors traveled to rural areas to visit the victims of post-election violence.
The ambassadors of the US, EU, Britain and Japan traveled to the towns of Mvurwi and Chiweshe, north of Harare, to gather information on attacks on mainly opposition supporters by supporters of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
On their way back to Harare the group was detained for about an hour by armed police, who demanded they produce a diplomatic note explaining their visit at the nearest police station.
“We are now going to beat you, too,” an intelligence official threatened an employee of the US Agency for International Development after hearing the group had met with the victims of violence.
Earlier, police had sealed the group briefly inside the grounds of Mvurwi hospital after demanding that a photographer delete his images of battered patients.
“They did not want us to have first-hand information of the level of brutality taking place in the countryside,” said Paul Engelstad, a spokesman for the US embassy.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington that the detention amounted to “harassment” and compared it to the regular intimidation of Zimbabwean citizens.
“It’s indicative of the kind of atmosphere that exists in Zimbabwe right now,” McCormack said.
“If you have foreign diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe who are facing this kind of treatment, you know, you can only imagine, for Zimbabwean citizens what life is like,” he said.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says 32 of its members have been killed in attacks by pro-Mugabe youth militia and soldiers in revenge for their vote in March 29 presidential elections.
Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader for the last 28 years, placed second in the election behind MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Although Tsvangirai topped the poll, a runoff between the two men has been called for after official results showed the MDC leader falling short of the 50-percent-plus-one-ballot threshold needed for an outright victory.
Tsvangirai has demanded the cessation of all violence and the deployment of peacekeepers from neighboring countries as conditions for his participation in a runoff.
The state-controlled Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has yet to give a date for the second round, while shrugging off MDC calls for it to be held by May 23.