Morgan Tsvangirai's Promise to Zimbabwe's Imprisoned and Tortured

It hurts that as we celebrate here today there are some who are in prison. I can assure you that they are not going to remain in those dungeons any day or any week longer.

Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's new Prime Minister, made this pledge to thousands of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters following his swearing-in ceremony on 11 February 2009 at Glamis Stadium in Harare. One week later, human rights advocate Justina Mukoko and MDC activists Ghandi Mudzingwa and Fidelis Chiramba remain in Chikurubi Maximum Prison where Zimbabwean security forces have tortured and starved these three civic leaders as well as some 30 other individuals.

Zimbabwean police, military, and CIO officers are skilled sadists who employ an array of techniques in their arsenal of torture: electrocution, falanga (beating the soles of the feet), genital mutilation, water boarding, bludgeoning, and burning to name a few. Government authorities are violating the most basic rights and freedoms of these detainees – some of whom have been imprisoned and held incommunicado in inhumane conditions for several months. Their health has severely deteriorated, and they have not received adequate medical attention.

That ZANU-PF has successfully retained control over the military, police, and security forces bodes poorly for an amelioration of the human rights situation. But Tsvangirai opted to join the unity government with his nemesis Mugabe as president. If he cannot wield enough power as prime minister to keep his pledge and have these men and women be released immediately, there is little hope Tsvangirai will be able to succeed in tackling even bigger challenges such as establishing rule of law, feeding seven million Zimbabweans who face starvation, or addressing the underlying causes of the current outbreaks in disease and collapse of the health system.

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