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By Agencies
09/03/04

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe's government has terrorised almost every single opposition member of Zimbabwe's parliament with violence, intimidation and jail, according to a new report.

A survey of 50 of the Movement for Democratic Change's 59 MPs and of 28 of its parliamentary candidates found that all claimed to have personally experienced human rights abuses in the past three years at the hands of the security services and supporters of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

In collecting MPs' accounts of vandalism, torture and attempted assassination for the first time, the Zimbabwe Institute, a non-governmental organisation based in South Africa, said it had revealed the price of standing up to Mugabe.

The report, to be published this week, paints a grim picture of life as an opposition MP: their houses are burned, their cars stoned, relatives and colleagues are abducted and sometimes killed, the MPs themselves are liable to arrest and beatings in police custody.

By targeting such visible and well-known people the regime was sending a clear signal to citizens to support only Zanu-PF in next year's parliamentary election, said the report. "Any person who contemplates standing for the opposition in 2005 in the existing environment is well aware they they will pay dearly for this choice."

The Zimbabwe Institute found that the 78 MPs and parliamentary candidates interviewed had experienced 616 incidents, an average of eight each.

More than 90% of the MPs had experienced jail, violence or the threat of it. A quarter had survived murder attempts, 42% reported being physically assaulted and 16% reported torture, including electric shocks to the genitals, being stripped naked and whipped and beaten on the soles of the feet.

Just under half had had their homes or cars vandalised. Three MPs reported murders of their staff and nearly 40% said they moved their families for greater security.

Half of the incidents were blamed on the police, the army and the central intelligence organisation, the other half on the so-called war veterans and ruling party youth militia.

MPs and candidates in rural areas were found to be the most vulnerable. No perpetra tor was arrested, charged or tried in any of the 616 incidents. "The state has become more brazen in its attacks on opposition MPs and no longer makes as much effort to disguise its hand in these attacks," said the report.

Incidents such as the burning to death in 2000 of a driver and guard serving the MDC leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, were widely publicised but the report found that near daily, non-fatal attacks went unnoticed by the international community.

Evelyn Masaiti, the shadow minister of youth, gender and employment creation, spent two days in hospital in 2002 after soldiers beat her with rifle butts and fists.

An information ministry spokesperson said he could not comment on the allegations until he the report was published. "We haven't seen a paragraph of it yet."

The Zimbabwe Institute, based in Cape Town, was a relatively new but respected and credible organisation, said Andrew Moyse, of the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe, a watchdog group based in Harare. "It's obvious that there is a concerted campaign to terrorise MDC legislators. It leaves some with a mix of terror and helplessness," said Mr Moyse.

Meanwhile the archbishop of Zimbabwe's Roman Catholic church, Pius Ncube, on Monday urged the world to toughen sanctions against the government. Singling out South Africa, he called for it to switch off its electricity supply to Zimbabwe. "That will bring the country to a standstill and eventually Mugabe will relent," he told the Johannesburg-based daily Sowetan newspaper.
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