Priests Among Targets in Zimbabwe

Aid Group Reports Continued Intimidation Before Runoff

HARARE, Zimbabwe, MAY 27, 2008 ( Many Zimbabwean priests are in hiding out of fear for their lives, Aid to the Church in Need reported.

The statement Monday from the charity organization coincided with ongoing reports of an intimidation campaign leading up to the June 27 runoff election between President Robert Mugabe, 84, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai won the March elections, but supposedly not by a wide enough margin to have clinched the victory. Results from that election were withheld for weeks; meanwhile human rights groups began to report torture and even the killing of those who had voted against Mugabe.

A priest, who remained anonymous for safety reasons, informed Aid to the Church in Need that people who voted against Mugabe’s party have been kidnapped, tortured, maimed and raped by soldiers — particularly in rural areas.

“Many Catholic priests and lay people are on the wanted lists of these soldiers and militia groups,” he said, “and many of them are forced to remain in hiding following death threats.”

Reprisals come after the Catholic Church joined with other denominations earlier this month to speak out about the country’s deteriorating human rights situation, including the organized violence in areas that did not vote for Mugabe.

Making a bad situation worse, local hospitals are unable to care for the wounded due to lack of even basic painkillers, Aid to the Church in Need lamented.

The priest who spoke with the aid group said he fears the situation will only deteriorate as the runoff nears.

Food is being withheld from those who did not vote for Mugape, he said, and despite their best efforts, Catholic dioceses are unable obtain any food for the hungry.

In any case, with an inflation rate at 160,000%, food has been scarce for months.

A report on post-election violence by the Christian human rights organization the Solidarity Peace Trust, published in Johannesburg on May 21, contained up to 50 eye-witness accounts of orchestrated beatings, torture and the destruction of homes and shops.

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