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Zimbabwean Human Rights Groups Note Reduction in Abuses

Zimbabweans are hopeful that the signing of the power-sharing agreement between the ruling party and the opposition last month will bring about change for the better in their troubled country. Human rights groups also say there has been a drop in abuse since the deal was signed. From Harare, Tendai Maphosa has more.

Elections in Zimbabwe have always been bloody affairs, but the campaign that preceded the June 27 presidential runoff was especially brutal.

The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Morgan Tsvangirai, who won the most votes in the first ballot pulled out of the contest citing the violence against his supporters. The MDC says more than 100 of its supporters were murdered while thousands sustained injuries and thousands more were displaced.

But even after President Mugabe won the runoff, some of the displaced, who had taken shelter in safe houses, stayed in hiding. Zimbabwe Human Rights Association National Director (Zimrights) Okay Machisa says the signing of the power-sharing deal changed that.

Machisa witnessed some of the violence against perceived MDC supporters, which he describes as gruesome. He says there are no people in hiding anymore. But he cautioned that while political violence has abated, it is still difficult for Zimbabweans to express themselves without fear of persecution. He cited recent attempts by organizations to hold peaceful demonstrations.

"We have seen Woza [Women of Zimbabwe Arise], we have seen Zinasu [Zimbabwe National Students Union] they have been in the streets, and they have been arrested," Machisa said. "All these people are actually fighting for democracy and human rights."

A spokesperson for an organization that assists victims of political violence, agreed there has been a dramatic reduction in physical violence. Speaking to VOA, on condition he and his organization are not identified, he said other forms of human-rights abuses continue, but not as intensely as before.

Machisa says there has been a noticeable shift in how the police deal with political complaints. He says they have been cooperative and not as blatantly partisan as before. He says Mr. Tsvangirai has recently held rallies without police interference.

"He has also addressed thousands of people in Bulawayo as well as thousands of people in Masvingo so we are realizing from a political party point of view that the space is a bit free," Machisa said. "After the 29th of March, MDC could not hold any meeting."

Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri recently urged Zimbabweans to set aside their political differences and embrace the deal for the betterment of the country. Earlier this year, the Commissioner-General, who is viewed as a strong supporter of the Mugabe government, vowed he would not salute Mr. Tsvangirai if he won the presidency.