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A matter of life or death in Zimbabwe

D 23 mars 2011     H 14:54     A Scott McLemee     C 0 messages


Scott McLemee, a columnist for Inside Higher Ed [1] and organizer of a solidarity campaign for jailed Zimbabwean socialists, explained how international activists could support the victims of the Mugabe regime ahead of U.S. protests on Wednesday.

RIGHT NOW, six people are being held in solitary confinement in
Zimbabwe—released from their cells each day, according to a report from
family members, for just 30 minutes in the morning and another 30 minutes in
the late afternoon.

They have not even gone on trial yet. When they do, the death sentence is a
real possibility. Their offense is that they organized a meeting [2] where
video footage from the recent mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt was
screened, and the events there were discussed.

I do not know this for certain, but it seems likely that they also may have
incited people to commit acts of reading. One of the masterminds behind the
gathering, after all, was Munyaradzi Gwisai, a former member of parliament
and leader of the International Socialist Organization of Zimbabwe. He also
teaches labor law at the University of Zimbabwe. You know how it is with
both professors and radicals. They are always trying to get you to read
something.

Now, all this unauthorized thinking about the outside world is clearly a
matter of grave concern to the regime of Robert Mugabe, who has been running
Zimbabwe for as long as it’s been called "Zimbabwe." That comes to 31 years
now—just a little longer than Hosni Mubarak was in power in Egypt.

On February 19, as the meeting was taking place at the Labour Law Center in
the capital city of Harare, security forces raided it and arrested dozens of
people, including students and trade union members. They were detained for a
week at a police station, without legal counsel, and a number of them later
described being "beaten with broomsticks, metal rods and blunt objects on
their bodies and the soles of their feet," according to an article in the
New York Times [3].

On Monday of this week, 39 of the prisoners were finally released [4]. The
six who remain in custody are being charged with treason ; if found guilty,
they could be executed. Meanwhile, other opposition groups are being
harassed, with at least one MP being arrested.

Evidently, this is the government’s way of preparing for the national
election to be held later this year. President Mugabe is, as the old saying
goes, a firm advocate of the two-party system : There should be one party in
power, and the other in jail.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

LAST TUESDAY, with my column for the week not quite done, I hurried over to
the Embassy of Zimbabwe in Washington, D.C., which is just a few blocks from
Inside Higher Ed’s world headquarters. There was what any activist must feel
obliged to call "a small but spirited demonstration" on the sidewalk in
front of the place. We gave leaflets to passersby, and people in cars honked
their horns in what one hoped was solidarity.

At one point, I even directed a few choice words, by bullhorn, to any of the
diplomatic staff who might have been inside. (This was not cathartic. It
would have been better to say them in person, but the front gate was
locked.) And then I rushed back home, to my desk and my deadline, trying to
put out of mind the image of being whipped on the soles of the feet with a
metal rod.

That very same day, March 1, turned out to be the occasion of the Million
Citizen March in Zimbabwe, which was organized on Facebook [5]. The press
abroad gave it almost no coverage. In a way, this was understandable, since
nobody showed up for the Million Citizen March. One of the few reporters who
did mention it [6] found widespread suspicion that the whole thing was "a
ploy by Zimbabwe’s intelligence service to lure activists onto the streets
so they can be arrested."

The benign neglect by the media of this not-quite-historical event is worth
some reflection, though. As I wrote in this column a month ago [7], there
has lately been a strong presumption that social networking is, as such,
democratogenic.

It is true that platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Twitter can be helpful,
even catalytic, for popular mobilizations. But as the authors of a recent
report from the United States Institute of Peace note [8], there is a strong
confirmation bias on that point. People only pay attention to the role of
social media in political movements when the latter are gaining strength or
moving forward.

If the opposite happens—if support begins to dwindle, or a campaign is
stillborn—it never occurs to anyone that online communication may have
generated or amplified public fear, cynicism or passivity. That seems to be
what happened with the Million Citizen March.

There’s no substitute for the more inconvenient forms of activism, which
require working with people you don’t already know, and might not
particularly like once you do. Not all solidarity involves friendship. But
saying that doesn’t mean discounting the possible value of social
networking. The Facebook group "Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean
Activists" [9] is by far the best source of information on the detainees,
and it provides a sense of what people around the world are doing to win
their freedom.

Someone once defined politics as the art of knowing what to do next.
Returning from that session with the bullhorn, I decided the next step would
probably involve you, the readers of this weekly column, who have a vested
interest in the release of Professor Gwisai and the other prisoners.
Remember, they have been subjected to incarceration, beatings and the threat
of execution for holding what was, in essence, a seminar on current events.
Although not an attack on academic freedom in the strictest sense, it
constitutes a brutal assault on the life of the mind.

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression," reads Article
19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ; "this right includes
freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and
impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."

Obviously, that proclamation has about as much sway with the world’s despots
as the Declaration’s prohibition on "torture or...cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment" (Article 5). But the vanity of dictators
is a curious thing. They do sometimes respond to public pressure from
abroad. They can, on occasion, be shamed. And for the sake of the Zimbabwean
political prisoners, we must try.

To that end, please consider endorsing and helping to circulate this call
[10] for the prisoners to be released and all charges dropped. It is
literally a matter of life or death.

SCOTT MCLEMEE

First published at Inside Higher Ed [11].

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

What you can do
Send an urgent e-mail to Zimbabwean officials calling for the immediate
release of the remaining six activists—Antonater Choto, Welcome Zimuto,
Eddson Chakuma, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Munyaradzi Gwisai and Hopewell Gumbo.

Include these e-mail addresses in the "To" line : info33@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[12], consular@zimbabwe-embassy.us [13], gapare@zimbabwe-embassy.us [14],
mhute@zimbabwe-embassy.us [15], goora@zimbabwe-embassy.us [16],
chinoingira@zimbabwe-embassy.us [17], masoso@zimbabwe-embassy.us [18],
nyamapfeni@zimbabwe-embassy.us [19] and mukupe@zimbabwe-embassy.us [20].

Forward your message separately to these supporters of democracy, so they
have a record of who has appealed to the regime :
socialismfrombelow@gmail.com [21], ashley_fataar@yahoo.co.uk [22],
shanthabloemen@gmail.com [23].

Join the Facebook group "Calling for the Release of Zimbabwean Activists"
[24] for updates on the case and solidarity actions. Sign and circulate a
petition [25] calling for the release of all the activists.

Donate to the "Free the Zimbabwe 45" fund [26] to contribute to the legal
defense of the activists, as well as support for their families.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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[1]
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/a_call_to_help_zimbabwe_prisoner
s
[2] http://www.freedom-now.org/campaign/munyaradzi-gwisai-et-al/
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/world/africa/01zimbabwe.html
[4] http://www.rttnews.com/Content/GeneralNews.aspx?Id=1569952&SM=1
[5] https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_141114552618441
[6]
http://blogs.aljazeera.net/africa/2011/03/01/zimbabwes-million-citizen-march
[7] http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/mclemee322
[8]
http://www.usip.org/events/blogs-and-bullets-evaluating-the-impact-new-media
- conflict
[9] https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_178601402184959
[10] http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/free_zims_now/
[11]
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/mclemee/a_call_to_help_zimbabwe_prisoner
s
[12] mailto:info33@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[13] mailto:consular@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[14] mailto:gapare@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[15] mailto:mhute@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[16] mailto:goora@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[17] mailto:chinoingira@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[18] mailto:masoso@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[19] mailto:nyamapfeni@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[20] mailto:mukupe@zimbabwe-embassy.us
[21] mailto:socialismfrombelow@gmail.com
[22] ashley_fataar@yahoo.co.uk
[23] shanthabloemen@gmail.com
[24]
https://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_178601402184959&view=doc&id=17952
6805425752# !/home.php ?sk=group_178601402184959
[25] http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/free_zims_now/
[26] http://freethezimbabwe45.chipin.com/free-the-zimbabwe-45-fund
[27] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0

Source from http://socialistworker.org