Mugabe punishes dissident students

June 6, 2003

University of Zimbabwe students felt the full wrath of President Robert Mugabe's clampdown on opposition supporters in Harare this week.

Almost 50 students were treated for injuries and 20 arrested after riot police shut the university campus on Monday and teargassed and beat many of the thousands of students who gathered to join anti-government protests in central Harare.

After the students were dispersed, police invaded some halls of residence.

They battered down doors, beat students and dragged many outside. One witness said that some students were injured when they jumped out windows to escape the police.

At the north end of campus, on a road about 25m from the perimeter fence, I watched as riot police, guarded by soldiers and armoured vehicles, hauled students out of a residence. A group of at least 20 shirtless students were forced to jog on the spot.

Before being chased away by riot police, I saw about a dozen students in small groups being marched by riot police towards the jogging group.

Several were limping badly. When I returned a few minutes later, the jogging group had grown. Near them at least ten other students had been forced to lie flat on the road, and some were being beaten by police.

Another group of about ten students was being marched along the road, being beaten from behind and forced repeatedly to fling themselves to the ground.

Again, I was chased away.

Earlier in the day, riot police and soldiers in armoured vehicles entered the campus and closed it. They moved quickly against the thousands-strong crowd and fired teargas, lecturers said. "We ran away and were chased. The police were after the ringleaders and shouted at the rest of us to go," a medical student told me.

Of the 49 students reportedly hospitalised, 18 were seriously hurt. Ten were still in hospital on Tuesday.

Earlier, eight students at Harare Polytechnic were held for allegedly rallying support for the week-long work stay-away and protests called by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change. This has been seen as the biggest challenge yet to Mr Mugabe's 23-year rule, but courts have deemed it illegal. People have been shot, teargassed, beaten, kidnapped and arrested.

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