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Victims tell of brutal Zimbabwe crackdown

Human Rights Watch accused the police of shooting people in broad daylight, while Amnesty criticised Zimbabwe to end its 'repressive measures'.

A man is loaded into a car after allegedly being assaulted by soldiers on 16 January 2019 in Sizinda township, Bulawayo, as Zimbabwe is swept by violent protests triggered by a sharp, sudden rise in fuel prices. Picture: AFP

HARARE - The men wearing police and military uniforms came in the middle of night, forcing their way into the home where Brighton, 35, lives with his young family outside Harare.

First his wife was beaten, then they turned on him, kicking him and hitting him with sticks after dragging the couple -- who have a one-month old child -- out of their bed.

The attack was just one of dozens of testimonies depicting a brutal crackdown after protests erupted this week over the government's decision to more than double petrol prices.

"I was sleeping around 02:00 am and they were banging at the door," Brighton said, as he waited in a Harare hospital for treatment for bruising on his face.

"They first beat up my wife. When they realised that she was carrying a baby, they stopped and ordered her to come out to watch while they beat me.

"I was the only man there. All the other tenants were out. They said 'we will beat you on behalf of the other men absent'.

"They told me to stoop and then they started beating me, kicking me," he said, recalling the assault in the early hours of Thursday morning.

"I don't know why they beat me," said Brighton, who is employed by a engineering company, adding he had been busy at work on Monday, the main day of the protests.

WITNESS ACCOUNTS SUPPRESSED

Doctors' groups say they have treated hundreds of casualties this week.

Information has been scarce after authorities cut the internet in an apparent attempt to suppress details and halt accounts spreading on social media of police and soldiers indiscriminately raiding homes.

For some critics, the repression echoes the grim brutality of Robert Mugabe's era.

The UN's human rights office on Friday urged Harare to "stop the crackdown".

It voiced alarm over the security forces' "excessive use of force," which included reported use of live ammunition.

"They broke a window to the spare bedroom where my children were sleeping, the kids started screaming and ran to our bedroom," truck driver Rogers, 40, told AFP.

"They said if we refused to open up, they would fire teargas.

"I was beaten by three soldiers and one policeman -- they beat me with thick sticks and batons, while one of them poured water all over my body."

Another victim, Somandla, 19, who is unemployed, spoke softly and was visibly in pain, with a cotton bud in his ear.

"My ear got it worse as they used a gun to beat me there. It was hard for me to hear in the morning.

"They were saying 'you are guys that were starting fire in the streets'. I believe they were soldiers because they were wearing camouflage uniforms."

Human Rights Watch accused the police of shooting people in broad daylight, while Amnesty criticised Zimbabwe to end its "repressive measures".

ECHOES OF MUGABE ERA

The crackdown has spread from Harare's residential districts to provincial towns.

In the northern city of Chinhoyi, one pregnant woman was attacked and suffered a miscarriage, according to a neighbour.

Some victims said they avoided seeking treatment at public hospitals in case they were asked to sign affidavits. Activists have put the death toll at between five and 16.

"They beat up my brother's son and they beat me on my buttocks after they saw (opposition leader) Nelson Chamisa’s poster in my dining room," said one 44-year-old mother. "They said I must tear it up."

One doctor told AFP that the scale of injuries was far worse than when security forces shot dead six protesters in Harare on 1 August, two days after the election.

He compared it to the 2008 election when then opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the presidential run-off against Mugabe as hundreds of people were killed.

The government has denied any wrongdoing.

Home Affairs minister Cain Mathema has praised security forces for the "joint efforts to ensure that peace is restored."

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