Zimbabwean student leaders are facing mounting danger from Robert Mugabe's government in the run-up to presidential elections, which are just three months away. Several students who are critical of the increasingly oppressive rule are in hiding, and some report being assaulted by police, and suspended from their studies.
The London-based Network for Education and Academic Rights is monitoring the plight of students and intellectuals in Zimbabwe, whose Zanu-PF government, in power for 21 years, is stepping up a campaign of terror and intimidation aimed at securing Mr Mugabe, 77, a further term as president.
Near, a web-based academic freedom advocacy group, condemned the arrest of University of Zimbabwe law lecturer Lovemore Madhuku, as well as the detention and ill treatment of students. The students have since been released, partly due to international pressure.
Dr Madhuku, chair of the National Constitutional Assembly, Zimbabwe's biggest civic group and a pro-democracy coalition of churches, unions, human rights and student groups, was arrested by police along with other activists, including 11 students, in Harare in November. They were demonstrating against government repression and the killing of 23-year-old student Lameck Chemvura, who was allegedly strangled and thrown off a train by soldiers. He was the second student to be murdered in 2001, both allegedly by security forces.
Among those arrested was Tapera Kapuya, secretary general of the University of Zimbabwe Students Union. He said he was assaulted and placed in solitary confinement.
He said: "There has been a severe clampdown on student leaders by the security forces. The situation is very worrying, and we are expecting it to get even worse when the university re-opens in January. Most student leaders have gone into semi-hiding, and our families are being threatened."
Mr Kapuya added that the university was also clamping down on activists. Student leaders Innocent Mupara and Tinashe Chimedza have been expelled, and Mr Kapuya and three others have been suspended.
The recent events are the latest in a very difficult year for students who have been criticising government repression, as well as the deteriorating conditions at the university and inadequate state allowances, that shrink monthly due to runaway inflation.
But the greatest limitation for students is the lack of resources to finance their activities. "Harassments and victimisations go unreported, or without much protest, due to our incapacity to fund the legal bills," Mr Kapuya said.
Students are appealing to the international community for legal protection and the cutting of all aid to the university.