- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Zimbabwean opposition officials say they fear for the safety of their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who is being held in “terrible conditions” at a Harare jail where another opposition member died last year under mysterious circumstances.

For more than a week, Mr. Tsvangirai, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has been held without bail at the prison after being arrested on charges of organizing a five-day national strike earlier this month.

The government of President Robert Mugabe has charged him with treason, a crime that carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Mr. Tsvangirai is already on trial in another treason case, in which he is charged with plotting to have Mr. Mugabe assassinated.

MDC Deputy President Gibson Sibanda told The Washington Times that he had visited Mr. Tsvangirai in jail and was appalled at what he saw.

“He is being kept in the most terrible conditions in a room that has no beds,” he said. “It is winter here now and, at night, temperatures fall almost to freezing point, but the prisoners sleep on a cement floor and the few blankets they have are riddled with fleas. The cell was designed to hold at most 40 people, but there are 75 men cramped in there, and we have to take food to the jail every day because the rations are not even enough to feed a child. It is a living hell.”

Yesterday, Mr. Tsvangirai appeared in court in the continuing trial based on his first arrest last year. The state charges that he and other members of the MDC approached a Canadian public relations firm, Dickens and Madson, and asked the firm to kill Mr. Mugabe. One of the company’s directors, Ari Ben Menashe, made a videotape of the meeting.

However, Mr. Tsvangirai’s defense attorney, George Bizos — who defended Nelson Mandela on a treason charge in South Africa 40 years ago — has since shown the court evidence that the Canadian firm had been paid by Mr. Mugabe’s government.

Excerpts of the videotape played to the court have been of such quality that transcripts were offered to explain what was being said. At no time in the recording does Mr. Tsvangirai ask for Mr. Mugabe to be killed.

Mr. Sibanda said Mr. Tsvangirai’s life could be in danger if he remained in custody.

“Only last year, one of our members of parliament, Learnmore Jongwe, died in the same prison while awaiting trial, and we fear greatly that, for as long as he is at the mercy of the state, Mr. Tsvangirai’s life could be in danger,” he said.

The MDC was formed in 1999 and came close to ending the 23-year rule of Mr. Mugabe in general elections in 2000 and in a presidential contest last year.

The party has refused to accept the result of last year’s vote, which observers said was marred by government-sponsored violence and intimidation. Many Western countries, including the United States, also rejected the outcome and have called for new elections.

Mr. Tsvangirai’s latest treason charge followed the third nationwide strike in as many months.

The United Nations estimates that more than 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s 12 million people live under conditions of famine.

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