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Mugabe is still the boss

In small and big ways, the Zimbabwean leader shows he remains in charge.

Responding to questions in parliament last week, the co-minister of Home Affairs Giles Mutsekwa revealed that Tomana, not the police, ordered the arrests of two journalists from an independent newspaper. The newspaper had published the names of police and intelligence officers responsible for the abduction and torture of opposition activists last year. The names appeared in court papers and were therefore matters of public record — so there should be no problem in printing them in a newspaper.

Tomana’s office also has refused to grant bail to detainees who have been ordered free by the courts. In nearly every case involving charges against government critics, the state has challenged court rulings to keep people imprisoned for another week, or more, while the government's appeal to their release is heard. A judge only last week sharply criticized the state for opposing bail in the case of three activists when its legal grounds for doing so were weak.

Meanwhile, media defense organizations have slammed the recent arrest of journalists.

“Zimbabwean journalists continue to be the victims of police brutality and judicial abuses,” said Reporters Without Borders. “By arresting journalists arbitrarily and then conditioning their release on the payment of bail, the police and courts are subjecting the media to a systematic extortion racket. We again appeal to the authorities to stop these practices.”

Mugabe’s grip on the levers of power has placed the MDC in an invidious position. In a bid to placate the prickly Mugabe, Tsvangirai has campaigned for the West to lift sanctions. Although Tsvangirai has also called for an end to criticism of Mugabe, he has been forthright as to where Zimbabwe's problems lie.

“The continued violations of the rule of law and the Global Political Agreement (which created the power-sharing government) prevent the inflows of development aid, obstructing the legislative agenda, and risk keeping Zimbabwe mired in poverty,” he said recently. “What continues to plague Zimbabwe can best be described as a reluctance to accept the reality of the changes taking place within the country.”

Western donors have made it clear that before they untie their purse strings the new government must end arbitrary arrests and allow a free media.

At a recent conference call to chart a path to media reform, government publicists called for sanctions to be lifted, but they made no mention of the need to stop state arrests of independent journalists, to allow the return of exiled journalists, or to end state controls over the media.

The MDC, frustrated by Mugabe’s persistent stonewalling, has sought the intervention of the regional organization, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which is the guarantor of the Zimbabwe settlement.

Tsvangirai, in a remarkable display of self-criticism, said over the weekend he “totally agreed with the decision because they (his party) feel we have been dragging our feet in solving the outstanding issues.”

Tsvangirai specifically mentioned the “unexplained arrests.”

The MDC's move to bring SADC back into the fray is an admission of the failure to gain cooperation with Mugabe and his party, Zanu-PF.

Meanwhile, civil society and much of the independent media will be biting its collective tongue. It is tempting, but would not be helpful, to say “told you so."

This dispatch was updated to add more information.

More GlobalPost dispatches on Zimbabwe:

Harare rocks out with cultural festival

Zimbabwe's media battles

Changing the face of AIDS in Zimbabwe


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