Gwisai, who runs the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) chapter in Zimbabwe, has been charged with treason, a very serious crime which can attract the death penalty.
While the merits of the case are now for the courts to determine, what is of major concern is the manner in which Gwisai and his co-accused were picked up and treated by their interrogators.
According to testimony made by Gwisai in court, police beat up and tortured the accused in a bid to extract treason confessions from them.
Gwisai’s lawyer said his client was lashed more than 20 times on his back by his torturers using a plank. Such humiliating treatment in police custody is a gross violation of the accused persons’ rights and of the law.
Despicable as it is, the police actions are not surprising, given the timing of the arrests. With revolutions taking place in North Africa and the Middle East, it is clear Zimbabwe’s state security machinery is already hard at work, launching pre-emptive strikes at any groups of people who may wish to start Egyptian- or Tunisian-style uprisings.
Arresting and torturing political opponents is a cut-and-dried strategy that has worked for President Robert Mugabe’s regime in the past when faced with the prospect of mass action. The same strategy is again being used by the regime bent on maintaining the status quo in the face of a wave of uprisings sweeping autocrats out of office.
The violence unleashed in Mbare during the past few weeks could also be part of this grand strategy to strike fear into the hearts of the regime’s perceived opponents and weaken their resolve to take to the streets. The million dollar question is: Can the winds of change blasting everything autocratic in their wake in other countries be stopped in Zimbabwe?
Only time will tell.