afrol News, 14 December - The Zimbabwean opposition leader and presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai this morning was arrested for "not having a licence for his walkie-talkie", but released some hours later. The arrest is widely seen as an "act of intimidation."
Morgan Tsvangirai, the country's opposition leader (MDC) and ex-Secretary General of the trade union ZCTU has been released from prison. Arrested by fifteen armed policemen led by Superintendent Matema at 5:30 am this morning, Tsvangirai was then taken to Harare Central police station on the trumped-up charge of failing to have a license for a radio, that he used to communicate with his personal security guards.
This move is being widely reported as an intimidation manoeuvre by President Robert Mugabe in the run up to the April presidential elections. Morgan Tsvangirai himself told the news agency AFP today, "I don't think it has anything to do with a licence, it's just harassment,"
The arrest also coincides with the launching of President Mugabe's campaign to be re-elected next year. Tsvangirai is the first serious challenger to Mugabe's reign since he took powers in 1980, and it is assumed that Mugabe can only win if he launches the same intimidation campaign he did under the year 2000 legislative elections.
It is not know yet whether the original charges of "being in possession of walkie-talkie radios without a licence" are still pending. The radios in question have a range of about 50 metres. "The walkie-talkie does not need a license. It can be bought from any supermarket," according to MDC spokesman Learnmore Jongwe.
Tsvangirai's arrest follows a raid on his home yesterday when three of his security guards were arrested. The Law and Order Section of the police is a unit, which seems to have been set up solely for the purposes of harassing the political opposition in Zimbabwe. The search lasted for at least one and half hours and the police left after failing to find anything to hold against Tsvangirai.
The Zimbabwean government several times has tried to move against Morgan Tsvangirai to prevent him from contesting next March's elections. Last month, the Zimbabwean Supreme Court dropped a government filed case against Tsvangirai, being charged with terrorism and treason. According to the Court, the colonial-era laws under which Tsvangirai had been charged were "unconstitutional".
Last year's legislative elections had been marred by violence and intimidation, initiated by self-styled "war veterans" and indulged upon by Mugabe's government. Several thousand people were killed and injured during the campaign, were Mugabe's ZANU party managed to win a narrow majority. Political violence however has continued after the election, and seems to be increasing again as the next electoral campaign is opening.
On Monday, the body of an MDC activist was found floating at a dam in central Zimbabwe, two days after he was kidnapped from his home. Rights groups estimate that at least 66 people have died since Zimbabwe's crisis began almost two years ago, while more than 42 000 have been forced from their homes and thousands more have been tortured.
There has been expressed concern over the government's action from various circles. According to the South African trade union COSATU's spokesman, Patrick Craven, the arrest reinforces the fears "that free and fair elections will not be possible in the light of the current harassment of opposition parties and trade unions and the climate of lawlessness."
Craven holds the arrest was part of "a general problem of the government trying to intimidate all those opposed to President Mugabe." There was also "a worrying trend of lawlessness, with so-called 'war veterans' roaming the streets pretending to be custodians of the liberation struggle," Craven says.
The International Committee of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) goes further in asking for international reactions to what it sees as worrying signals before the presidential elections. ICFTU Secretary Bill Jordan said; "We must work closely with the countries bordering Zimbabwe, to let Mugabe know that he cannot get away with the continuing denial of basic rights to the people."
An emerging international front to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, led by the British government, last week crumbled on the decision by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), speaking out against isolating Mugabe. So far, only the United States have taken legal steps to sanction Zimbabwe's human rights violations, while several European countries in practical terms have withdrawn their aid to the country.
Sources: Based on COSATU, press reports, MDC and afrol archives