Reporters in third world countries know reporting the wrong thing can be dangerous. Here in the Philippines, for example, our press knows that spilling the beans on a corrupt politician may result in being shot at by an unknown hitman on a motorcycle.

But in Zimbabwe, things are more open: according to the Zimbabwe Times, the chief of the “law and order” section of the police department, with help from the military and the Central Intelligence Organization, is behind the kidnapping and intimidation of political activists and journalists. The operation even has a name: Operation Chimumumu (Shona for a dumb person, i.e. one who is unable to speak).

Jestina Mukoko, an ex newslady who runs the Zimbabwe Peace Commission, was kidnapped on December 4th when a dozen armed men appeared at her residence.Her only “crime” was to document human rights abuses during the elections.

Since then, many voices have been petitioning the government for her release, along with others who have been similarly kidnapped.

Just before Christmas, JudgeYunus Omarjee ordered the police to release Mukoro and 32 other activists and take her and 8 others whose lawyers alleged that they were tortured to be taken to the local hospital for evaluation and treatment.

The government however has refused to obey the court, instead taking Mukoro and 8 others, including a two year old baby, to a maximum security prison

Jestina Mukoko and the others were charged on Wednesday with recruiting or trying to recruit people, including a police officer, to plot the overthrow of President Robert Mugabe‘s government.

SWRadioAfrica reports that another journalist has been arrested along with the human rights activists and opposition supporters:

Shadreck Manyere, a photo journalist who was abducted two weeks ago is being held at Rhodesville police station and is likely to appear in court on Saturday on similar charges as Jestina Mukoko

The high profile arrests might be the tip of the iceberg. One wonders how many ordinary people are intimidated or threatened, without any reports of what has happened.

Zimbawean activist Reverend Hove, who now lives in South Africa, reports that his family’s home has been firebombed, luckily those inside managed to escape without injury. However, the police response to the assault was a clue that this was not an isolated incident:

They called the Police and all the Police asked was, “Is there anyone who does Opposition Politics here?” When told “Yes” they said “That could be why” and left!

Things are so bad that even Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmon Tutu has suggested that the international community use threats of force to oust Mugabe.

But as long as a veto threat from Russia and/or China stops the UN from acting, and as long as South Africa and the African Union stops local action and prevents the UK from intervening, it is hard to think of anything short of a military coup that could remove Mugabe and his thugs from power.

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Makaipablog

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