Officer films as he, others are forced to vote for Mugabe

Members of Congress of South African Trade Unions demonstrated in solidarity with Zimbabweans at Beit Bridge, South Africa. Members of Congress of South African Trade Unions demonstrated in solidarity with Zimbabweans at Beit Bridge, South Africa. (Antony Kaminju/Reuters)
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Associated Press / July 6, 2008

JOHANNESBURG - A Zimbabwe prison officer used a hidden camera given to him by a British newspaper to film how he and his colleagues were forced to vote for Robert Mugabe in last month's widely criticized presidential runoff.

The Guardian posted the film on its website yesterday and said in the film and accompanying stories that the officer, Shepherd Yuda, fled Zimbabwe on Friday and was with his family in an undisclosed location.

International observers said the June 27 runoff was not free or fair, largely because of violence against opposition supporters. There also were reports of ballot tampering as described in Yuda's film, with members of the security forces and others not allowed to vote in secret.

Repeated attempts to reach Zimbabwe's government spokesman for comment were unsuccessful.

Zimbabwean officials have rejected criticism of the election, which Morgan Tsvangirai, opposition Movement for Democratic Change leader, pulled out of as the only other candidate. Mugabe was declared the winner on June 29 and took the oath of office within hours of the release of results.

The film, which lasts about 10 minutes, shows a senior official identified as a member of Mugabe's party handing out postal ballots to Yuda and other prison workers and watching as they mark them. It is clear they feel they have no choice but to vote for Mugabe, for fear of what the senior official might do if they vote for the opposition.

Later, in private, Yuda sits in front of the camera and says that marking an 'X' on the ballot next to Mugabe's photo "was the most difficult moment of my life."

Other scenes in his film show prison workers speaking fearfully of a colleague's relative being abducted by militant Mugabe supporters, and a meeting at which prison workers are told to vote for Mugabe.

It also shows some famous prisoners, including number two opposition leader Tendai Biti and civil rights activist Jenni Williams. Biti, charged with treason, and Williams, charged in a separate case with disturbing the peace, have since been released on bail.

In Berlin yesterday, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hopes African leaders will support tougher sanctions against Zimbabwe when they participate at the upcoming Group of Eight summit.

Leaders including President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, whom Zimbabwe's opposition has accused of bias toward Mugabe, and President Umaru Yar'Adua of Nigeria have been invited to a meeting as part of the summit in Japan, which starts tomorrow.

Merkel has said the European Union would seek "all possible sanctions" against Zimbabwe's government and leader following the widely denounced presidential election runoff. She underlined that stance in her weekly video message, in which she looked ahead to the G-8 summit.

"We will confer on how we can toughen sanctions against Zimbabwe, and I hope that we will also get support from our African colleagues here," Merkel said.

Mbeki made a brief, unannounced visit to Zimbabwe yesterday before heading to the G-8 meeting later in the day, his spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said.

During a visit of a few hours in his role as mediator, he met with Mugabe and some members of the opposition, Ratshitanga said. Tsvangirai was not one of the people Mbeki met.

Ratshitanga refused to say what was discussed, but said it was not related to the G-8.

The EU has travel bans and an asset freeze in place on Mugabe and other senior Zimbabwean officials. African Union leaders, however, have not delivered a strong, unified message over voting widely dismissed as a farce after Tsvangirai pulled out, citing violence and intimidation.

Beyond Zimbabwe, Merkel said the G-8 and African leaders would discuss "how the industrial countries can help African countries strengthen their own farming sector" in the face of soaring food prices.

She added that they would consider what standards should be applied to growing crops for biofuels "so that no competition with food production worldwide can arise."

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