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“Prisoners were screened and if confirmed to be HIV-positive but relatively healthy, they were released from jail into the hands of a crack unit comprising the army, CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) and the police,” said a retired senior prison officer.
“The prisoners then underwent some orientation and training and were informed that they were being recruited as officers in return for their freedom. Some of them were given police uniforms while others joined militias terrorising the opposition.”
He said the released prisoners worked under the close command of members of the crack team, raping women and infecting them with HIV. “This is one gruesome tactic that was used but has never been talked about. Many women are likely to have been infected with the deadly virus and a lot of children born after the rape are likely to have been victims too,” he added.
A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that individuals who were not known to them were given police uniforms as a disguise to gain access to targeted victims, among them women.
The Zimbabwean has in the past carried testimonies by women who were raped by people who purported to be police officers.
In one such case, two men driving an unmarked Isuzu KB truck and dressed as police officers approached a woman from Epworth and offered to show her where her murdered husband was. The husband was an MDC councillor in Epworth and he had disappeared.
As the two men drove along the Mutare highway, one of them jabbed the woman with a syringe that contained an unknown substance. The woman regained consciousness at Parirenyatwa Hospital in Harare and subsequently discovered that she had fallen pregnant, later giving birth to a girl who is now six.
“It is normal that CIO or military officers are seconded to the police and actually wear our uniform, so some of us thought that is where they were coming from,” said the police officer.
The retired prison officer said he learnt that some of the prisoners who had been recruited into the rape gang fled and several were recaptured and returned to prison.
“Various reasons were given for their release from prison, among them that they were going on indications (helping police investigators in on-going cases), after which they were reported to have escaped,” said the ex-chief superintendent.
Victims were largely unable to report the rape because the police refused to listen to them or turned them into accused persons on fabricated charges.
Tsvangirai handed President Robert Mugabe his first officially acknowledged defeat in the first round of polls in March of the same year. It took about a month for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to release the results of the presidential poll and when they were announced, Tsvangirai fell short of forming a new government on his own, forcing the run-off that was held on June 27 2008.
A hastily enacted new provision in the electoral law provided that a presidential candidate and his party could only form a new government on their own if they amassed 50 percent plus one of the votes, but Tsvangirai received just under that.
The run-up to the run-off was marked by widespread violence that resulted in more than 400 gruesome deaths according to independent estimates. Thousands were maimed and displaced from their homes.
Tsvangirai and human rights defenders accused Zanu-PF of setting up terror camps across the country where the killings and torture of opposition supporters took place. Many lost their livestock, homes and property.
Tsvangirai withdrew from the run-off just before election day, citing widespread voter intimidation and violence – leaving Mugabe as the sole candidate.
Security forces have declined to comment on the 2008 electoral violence and the prison services spokesperson, Elizabeth Banda, could not be reached by phone.
Source: the zimbabwean