Zimbabwe police have arrested about 50 people who attended a meeting to discuss the North Africa uprisings, just days after government threats to crush any dissent inspired by the street revolutions to the north.
Union leaders, students and human-rights activists were among the dozens arrested on the weekend for "subverting the government." They were watching a video about the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia when police raided the closed-door meeting, according to the wife and brother of Munyaradzi Gwisai, one of those arrested.
Mr. Gwisai, a former member of parliament, is the director of the Labour Law Centre in Harare, where the meeting was held on Saturday to debate the North Africa uprisings. His wife, Shantha Bloemen, said she has learned that 52 arrested people are being interrogated individually and those deemed "ringleaders" are being beaten. Other reports confirmed the arrests, saying that a total of 46 or 47 people were taken into police custody.
The arrested activists will probably be charged with "conspiring against the state," Ms. Bloemen said.
A report on a respected Zimbabwe website, News Day, quoted a police spokesman who confirmed the arrests. The spokesman accused the activists of trying to "subvert a constitutionally elected government."
Another report, quoting Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said at least one of those arrested was severely beaten.
Political violence has been escalating in Zimbabwe in recent weeks, spearheaded by gangs of thugs who are loyal to President Robert Mugabe, the 87-year-old autocrat who has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980. Analysts say the Mugabe loyalists seem to be creating a climate of intimidation to pave the way for an election later this year, when Mr. Mugabe is expected to seek another term.
Defence Minister Emmerson Munangagwa, one of the most powerful Mugabe allies, warned recently that any attempt to emulate the events in Egypt would be crushed.
Last week, five youths from the main opposition party were reported missing after they allegedly celebrated the downfall of former Egypt president Hosni Mubarak and chanted that Mr. Mugabe should follow. The five youths were abducted by unknown men who were suspected of belonging to Mr. Mugabe's dreaded spy agency, the Central Intelligence Organization, according to a Zimbabwe radio report.
It was also the CIO that infiltrated the labour centre meeting on Saturday, leading to the police raid and the arrests, Ms. Bloemen said.