Mugabe on the offensive

IssueMarch - June 2002

Both independent and foreign journalists, and the lesbian and gay community, have again been under attack in Zimbabwe during January and February.

With the build-up to the presidential election - due to be held on 9 March - a combination of new legislation and political policing is attempting to prevent dissent, through restricting press freedom and banning public demonstrations and opposition party election rallies.

At the end of January the restrictive new media bill and a new public order and security act were passed into law, provoking both legal challenges and public protests. One Zimbabwean journalist, Balisdon Peta, was arrested after publicly protesting against the media bill. He spent the night in police custody before being released without charge.

During a Zanu-PF election rally speech in early February President Mugabe was reported to have again threatened to punish gays: “We are saying they do not know biology because even dogs and pigs know biology. We can form clubs, but we will never have homosexual clubs. In fact we punish them” he told thousands of people at the rally. His comments added to a litany of previous verbal attacks.

PN asked a contact within the lesbian and gay community about how the election build-up was affecting them and whether activists outside Zimbabwe could offer any support. He responded: “I am not sure what you can do that is not already being done. As usual, we feel that the fight should be from within and ideas which we had are now being taken up by governments elsewhere.

”We have encouraged everyone in the lgbt community to register and vote - there was no point in advising people which way since Mugabe has been doing all of our electioneering for us and kindly brought up the issue at his mass rally.”

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum estimated that 16 people were killed during January in political violence. “This confirms the oft-repeated assertion that Zimbabwean elections are almost always accompanied by gross human rights violations and loss of life,” said their report.