Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said Sunday that his decision to withdraw from this week’s presidential runoff was motivated by the “orgy of violence” including rape, torture, murder and abductions by ruling party militants.
The violence and intimidation that have caused terror in rural areas erupted in full view of international election observers in the capital Sunday, when thousands of President Robert Mugabe’s feared youth brigades went on a rampage to prevent the opposition from holding a rally.
“We can’t ask the people to cast their vote … when that vote will cost their lives,” a somber Tsvangirai told a news conference.
“This violent retributive agenda has seen over 200,000 people internally displaced and over 86 MDC supporters killed. Over 20,000 homes have been destroyed and over 10,000 people have been injured and maimed in this orgy of violence,” he declared.
A virtual ban on independent journalists and most international humanitarian organizations have turned large parts of Zimbabwe into effective no-go areas and made it is difficult to confirm the opposition claims.
The government blames the Movement for Democratic Change for the violence but most observers and groups like Amnesty International say much of it is fomented by soldiers and militants loyal to Mugabe.
The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights—whose members are confronted daily with the victims of violence—said last week that at least 85 people had died following the first round of elections March 29.
The most recent victims included a school headmaster whose eye was removed and whose genitals were severed. The fire-charred body of another, the wife of an opposition local council official, was found with both feet and a hand removed, the doctors said.
The association’s doctors saw more than 1,000 patients during May—a figure described as the tip of the iceberg.
Fractures increased threefold between April and May, the group said. It described arms and wrists broken as victims tried to defend themselves from blows from sticks or bars, severe internal bruising, and gaping skin wounds from heavy beatings and whippings.
At least one victim died of asphyxia as his tormentors sat on his back and tried to pull his head off, doctors said.
The Movement for Democratic Change accused Mugabe’s supporters—notably the feared war veterans and youth militia—of mounting door-to-door terror campaigns to punish people for having voted for the opposition in the first round of voting.
Among the atrocities it reported were cases of opposition supporters being burned alive in their homes. Others disappeared and were later found dead, their limbs hacked off. It said grieving families of the dead were often prevented from retrieving the bodies by threats.
Mugabe has likened the re-election campaign to a war. His top security commanders have said they will not serve under Tsvangirai.
“The militia, war veterans and even Mugabe himself have made it clear that anyone that votes for me in the forthcoming election faces the very real possibility of being killed,” Tsvangirai said.
“Mugabe has declared war, and we will not be part of that war.”