Zimbabwe police raid Christian groups in Harare

By Ecumenical News International
June 13, 2008

Zimbabwe police and security forces have raided the Harare offices of several Christian groups, arresting the general secretary of the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe and other officers and staff.

The student Christian group accused the government of President Robert Mugabe of "declaring war against its own people", in a statement following the 9 June 2008 raid in which its general secretary Prosper Munatsi was taken in by police.

In the 10 June statement, it said heavily armed members of the police, central intelligence and military units had swooped on the Ecumenical Centre in Harare, which houses the offices of several Christian organizations, including the SCMZ and the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance.

"In the process police ransacked the SCMZ offices and confiscated computers, laptops, digital cameras, and a minibus," it stated. Those arrested from the SCMZ, besides Munatsi, were Sandra Dzvete, an office intern; Langelihle Manyani, the group's vice-chairperson; Matsiliso Moyo, the gender secretary, and her seven month old baby; and Precious Chinanda, the finance and administration officer. Four staff of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance were also reported to have been taken in by police, as was a member of the Ecumenical Support Services.

"The movement sees this as a move to incapacitate the movement since it has been fully geared towards sensitising Christian students and youth on their rights and responsibilities in the face of a break or make presidential runoff pencilled in for 27 June 2008," stated the SCMZ, which is a national section of the Geneva-based World Student Christian Federation.

The June runoff election is being held after President Robert Mugabe was beaten in the first round of voting by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who officially won 48 percent of the presidential vote, while Mugabe got 43 percent. Zimbabwe's election law stipulates 50 percent plus one vote is required to avoid a runoff but the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party says it won the presidential poll outright and that it garnered 50.3 percent of the vote.

Both the SCMZ and the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance have been prominent in promoting peaceful and democratic change in the southern African country, which has been led by Mugabe since its independence from Britain in 1980.

Munatsi had been due to arrive in Geneva on 10 June to take part in a side event at the UN Human Rights Council on the role of young people and human rights in post-election situations.

Commenting on the raid on the offices of the Zimbabwe Christian Alliance, Useni Sibanda, the alliance's national coordinator, said, "This is pure harassment of church organisations. We are just doing our usual work and we don?t understand why we should be attacked by riot police like this."

One alliance staff member was reported to have been injured in the police operation.

The SCMZ said it condemned "such acts of intimidation directed to civil society players by the state security agents. The government has abdicated its duties by declaring war on its own people and creating an atmosphere of general insecurity among the populace." It added, "To members of the ecumenical family the time has come for us not only to speak but also to act against injustice, oppression and corruption according to the standard of the word of God."

Meanwhile, women from various Christian denominations gathered at six venue across the country to launch a series of prayer rallies to seek divine intervention to stem post-election violence, in which at least 60 people are reported to have died.

The opposition MDC said three of its supporters were shot dead while four went missing when suspected ruling party militants raided a party office in Zaka, south of the capital, where party activists had sought shelter after fleeing from violence.

The deaths of the opposition activists came days after two local officials of Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party were shot dead in separate incidents blamed on opposition supporters.

"As we pray there are some who are hiding in mountains afraid to come down fearing that they may be surrounded and attacked," Tawona Mtshiya, vice-chairperson of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, told worshippers at a prayer meeting in Harare on 31 May.

Pastor Vicky Mpofu, co-ordinator of Zimbabwe women's national prayer taskforce, told worshippers, "This runoff will not help. What we want is for these people [Mugabe and Tsvangirai] to come to the table and talk."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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