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Lawyer says Zimbabwe opposition leader beaten in police custody

[JURIST] A lawyer for Zimbabwe opposition presidential hopeful Morgan Tsvangirai [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], who was arrested [JURIST report] by government forces Sunday, alleged Monday that police beat Tsvangirai after he was taken into custody. Party officials similarly said [press release] he was "fighting" for his life after being "brutally beaten." Innocent Chagonda reported that he saw from a distance that Tsvangirai's head was bandaged and his face swollen, but lawyers have not yet been granted access to meet with him. In response, a Zimbabwe High Court judge ordered police give to Tsvangirai access both to his lawyer and to immediate medical attention [BBC report]. Government forces arrested at least 100 people and members of the opposition group Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) [party website] after a prayer meeting in the nation's capital of Harare was declared illegal. As citizens approached the sports field where the "Save Zimbabwe Campaign" meeting was to be held, riot police forcefully blocked entrance to the grounds and fired tear gas on the crowds. One activist was shot dead at the rally. Besides Tsvangirai, several other senior opposition figures [AFP report] were detained. US Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack called on the government of Zimbabwe Monday to be held accountable [press release] for its actions and for the safety and well-being of those in custody.

Police imposed a three-month ban [JURIST report] on anti-government protests last month after a political rally by the MDC led to confrontations between police and citizens around the country. Political tensions have run high in Zimbabwe [JURIST news archive], especially since President Robert Mugabe [BBC profile] announced in December that he planned to extend his presidency from 2008 to 2010 to correspond with the parliamentary elections. In February, Mugabe indicated that he would not hesitate to use force [Reuters report] against opposition protests. The government claims protests are in violation of Zimbabwe’s Public Order and Security Act [text], which makes it illegal to hold a political meeting of any size without written approval from police four days in advance. Zimbabwe police, who are tightly controlled by Mugabe’s administration, often use the legislation to stifle dissent, shut down independent newspapers, and arrest protesters. BBC News has more.

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