ZIMBABWE: Students arrested, tortured, expelled

Nearly 50 students have been arrested, 15 have been tortured, 10 expelled and two threatened with death so far this year in the run-up to and during Zimbabwe's chaotic elections. Riot police tanks have camped at polytechnics in the two main cities and several institutions have been disrupted in recent weeks by student protests against fee hikes and the long delay in announcing the results of the presidential poll. Violence is continuing ahead of a run-off that will pit President Robert Mugabe against Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who beat the ageing tyrant on 29 March but failed to gain more than half of the vote.

Parliamentary, presidential, senate and local authority elections were held on the same day but results trickled out agonisingly slowly. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won a majority in parliament, achieving the first victory over the ruling Zanu-PF since independence in 1980. But the outcome of the presidential poll was only announced by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on 2 May, with 48% to Tsvangirai and 43% to Mugabe.

The delay in releasing results, which have traditionally been declared a day after voting - plus dismissal by the High Court of an MDC emergency application seeking the release of the poll outcome - prompted students from state-run universities and polytechnics to stage protests last month and for riot police to move onto campuses.

"At this very moment, riot police with tanks are camped at Harare Polytechnic," Masimba Nyamanhindi, information officer for the student rights group Student Solidarity Trust, told University World News. There have also been reports of security force personnel staying in student residences in Bulawayo.

Each month, Student Solidarity Trust publishes a report on the state of higher education in Zimbabwe. Its April report says 17 students - 10 from the National University of Science and Technology (NUST), six from Bindura University of Science and Technology and one from Great Zimbabwe University - were arrested for protesting. The report says the 10 students arrested at NUST "were detained at Bulawayo Central Police Station where they were tortured and assaulted by police".

"Eight of them were forced to pay admission of guilty fines before being released. One student, Venancio Jachi, collapsed when the students were freed from police cells, a sign of heavy torture."

The eight who paid fines were charged with disrupting the peace while the remaining two will go to court for "malicious damage to property".

A student arrested at Great Zimbabwe University, Courage Ngwarai, secretary for legal and academic affairs for the Zimbabwe National Students Union (Zinasu), was released and will appear in court in due course while the six detained at Bindura University were also released after either paying fines or after charges against them were dropped.

At the country's oldest institution of higher learning, the University of Zimbabwe, protesting students closed the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe, which was collecting fees on behalf of the institution. Zimbabwe's inflation, the highest in the world, is currently officially pegged at 165,000% and the vast majority of people are battling to afford food and basic goods, let alone school or university fees.

Clever Bere, president of Zinasu, said the demonstrations yielded the desired result when it came to fees: tuition and accommodation charges at the University of Zimbabwe were pegged at nearly $15 billion but have since been reduced to $3 billion a year.

"On tuition, that was one of the major scores of the demonstrations," Bere said. "As for the elections, Zanu-PF went on to declare results which all of us know are not a true reflection of the will of people as expressed on 29 March."

The MDC is contesting the result of the presidential poll, claiming it was doctored and arguing that independent figures, collated by polling agents who reported results pasted outside voting stations, show that Tsvangarai won more than 50% of the vote and so a run-off poll is not required.

Student Solidarity Trust monthly reports since January this year reveal that since the political parties began campaigning for the election, 45 students have been unlawfully arrested, 15 others have been tortured and 10 have been expelled from their institutions. Two students have received death threats from state agents.