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Crisis Coalition director & more MDC members arrested

by Irene Madongo
13 March 2011

The head of a civic organisation and more MDC members were arrested over theweekend, as the attacks on activists by police worsened.

The director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, McDonald Lewanika, wasarrested on Saturday. Police said the 300 blank t-shirts and stencils he wascarrying were going to be used by young people at a music concert to printand wear anti-government messages. The concert was held at the AquaticComplex in Chitungwiza and organised by a local organisation, Uhuru Vibes.

Lewanika said he was going to the concert to distribute t-shirts to youngpeople, but not for anti-governmentpurposes. But he was arrested in Zengezaaround 4pm and taken to the police station.

“The idea was to give people t-shirts and spray paint and allow them towrite their own messages. It was part of a creative exercise. The police did not believe that. They started accusing me of wanting to hi-jack a musicalconcert and turn it into a political gathering,” Lewanika explained. “Theywere alleging I was going to instruct the young people who were at the venueto write very political messages, possibly against the government.”

Lewanika said he did have some t-shirts and wristbands in his car, which had the slogan ‘Abasha Posa’ (‘Down with POSA’) printed on them. However the bulk of the t-shirts were blank. POSA (Public Order and Security Act) is a  widely despised law, which the police have been using to ban public meetings or rallies by those opposed to Robert Mugabe and his ZANU PF.

Lewanika was released about seven hours later, on condition that he surrendered his car and the t-shirts. On Monday he was told he has being charged with ‘behaving in a way that can disrupt peace,’ under the Criminal Law Codification Act. Lewanika’s arrest is part of a heightened attack by the police on civic groups and political activists opposed to ZANU PF.

On Sunday there was another attack on the MDC. The party reports that 30 police officers besieged its headquarters at Harvest House in Harare at night, and arrested three staff members. Desmond Ncube, the MDC youth assembly national coordinator, and two security officers, Trust Phiri and Hebert Murori, are still in custody and they have not been charged yet.

Sunday’s arrests follow a dramatic week for the party. On Thursday the MDC-T was dealt two heavy blows. Firstly, MDC-T MP and Energy Minister Elton Mangoma was arrested on charges of criminal abuse of office, based on allegations that he awarded a contract to a South African company without going through the tender process. Mangoma has denied any wrongdoing and has pointed out that as Energy Minister he has sweeping powers in an emergency to acquire fuel for the country without going to tender. On the same day the MDC-T’s Lovemore Moyo was deposed as Speaker of Parliament, after the Supreme Court ruled that his election was irregular.

Following Mangoma’s arrest, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai announced that the parties in the coalition government should have a clean divorce, saying elections were now the only way forward.

The many arrests have netted members of other political parties too. Three leaders of Mthwakazi Liberation Front were arrested over a week ago and formally charged with treason, which attracts the death penalty. Paul Siwela, John Gazi and Charles Thomas are being accused of distributing flyers urging people to stage anti-government revolts like in Egypt and Tunisia. They are accused of holding a meeting where they allegedly discussed overthrowing the government. On Friday they were remanded in custody until March 25.

Others still locked up include International Socialist Organisation coordinator, Munyaradzi Gwisai, and five activists who have also been charged with treason, after watching a video of the Egypt uprising. The six were denied bail despite local and global outrage at their arrest and severe torture while in prison. They were further remanded to March 21.

Meanwhile in Bulawayo, three men, Mphumelelo Donga, Kevin Ncube and Gift Mlalazi, appeared in court on Thursday on allegations of laughing at a cartoon of Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace and the Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono.

According to SW Radio Africa correspondent Lionel Saungweme, the men picked up the cartoons on a street in Bulawayo and were arrested, for laughing. They were charged under the Criminal Law Codification Act and have been
remanded out of custody. They will return to court on 30 March.

However, Ncube has since been sentenced to 22 months in prison for another charge, which Saungweme says is believed to have been trumped-up as the complainant has written an affidavit confirming that Ncube is not at all
connected with the case. “It would look like the state just wanted to punish him to prove a point that if you are found in possession of a note ridiculing the president, you will be arrested, whether you are innocent or not.” The cartoons are printed on fake bank notes.

Saungweme said the lawyer dealing with the case, Mr Jamela of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, has a number of cases in Plumtree involving the cartoon notes and told him that members of the CIO have approached him.

The police and CIOs are understood to be hunting the cartoon notes down. “The attitude and mood of the police regarding the cartoons is really serious. They are in a harsh mood,” Saungweme explained, “CIOs are really hunting for people in possession of this. They really want to know where they are coming from.”