The human rights group Amnesty International says Friday's election in Zimbabwe is being held against a backdrop of widespread killings, torture and assault. It accuses the government of conducting a state campaign of violence against the opposition.

Simeon Mawanza is a researcher with Amnesty International. From London, he spoke to VOA English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the political climate surrounding the run-off election.

"Amnesty has said that these elections have been held in an environment where there had been serious human rights violations ? where there have been murders, torture, the arbitrary arrest and detention. There's always random beating and destruction property targeted at people, who are perceived to be supporters of the opposition party. And it's very difficult to ensure that citizens of Zimbabwe can freely exercise their vote today," he says.

Amnesty has called on the African Union and SADC (Southern African Development Community) to apply the "necessary pressure" on President Mugabe. "I think there's been some deafening silence by the AU assembly chairperson, (Tanzanian) President Kikwete, in terms of denouncing the violence that has been ongoing in Zimbabwe. And for starters, we would want to see him coming up with a very strong statement condemning what is happening in Zimbabwe. And then secondly, there was a need to convene the AU's Peace and Security Council to consider the situation in Zimbabwe?. That has happened. And in that meeting, we would like to see the African Union coming out with a very strong position and sending a clear message to President Mugabe that what has been going on in Zimbabwe is unacceptable, since it goes against the principles of the African Union, which is respect for human rights and the rule of law," he says.

Has Mr. Mugabe been getting mixed signals from his southern African neighbors? Mawanza says, "Just recently, I think there [have] been some more united messages. But the people of Zimbabwe need to see effective African solidarity, beyond making excuses for President Mugabe and being too accommodative?. And if President Mugabe does not take heed of the advice that he's getting from his peers and colleagues in Africa, they need to go to the next level, which could even be considering suspending Zimbabwe from the African Union."

He says that such a suspension could hit Zimbabwe hard."

If you suspend Zimbabwe from the African Union, there are very few countries that can survive outside these international bodies. And I think it sends a very clear signal to the victims of human rights violations in Zimbabwe that Africa is with them. And if Zimbabwe does not then take heed of that measure, there are other considerations, which might as well include those sanctions. But at this stage, I think the African Union, particularly the chairperson, need to come up with a very strong position," he says.

Mawanza adds, "Amnesty's message to President Mugabe remains the same: that he has to end the violence that is going on in the country immediately. He has to make sure that all those perpetrators of violence are brought to justice. It includes those who are linked to his political party. And we will continue to mobilize international pressure until that happens. We are also calling for the immediate release of people who have been arrested because they are associated with the MDC or they're human rights activists."

These include Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, who are leaders of WOZA, Women of Zimbabwe Arise. They've been detained since May 28th when they took part in a demonstration against election violence.