Dictator's crackdown

Zimbabwe: Opposition to tyranny is called terrorism, which does not make it so.

November 28, 2001

THE WORLD'S WAR on terrorism is easily abused, nowhere more so than in Zimbabwe, where any political opposition to President Robert G. Mugabe is branded terrorism. So, now, is any honest reporting of government crackdowns.

A delegation from the European Union that left Harare last week is likely to recommend sanctions against Zimbabwe for Mr. Mugabe's human rights abuses. The purpose of the visit had been to discuss the role of Mr. Mugabe's army in Congo's civil war.

The day before the delegation arrived, the government press announced pending legislation to hang people trying to overthrow the government.

Mr. Mugabe greeted the Europeans with a plan to compel residents to carry identity documents at all times or risk a one-year jail sentence. This would help control the population before a presidential election next year that the opposition challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, would surely win in the unlikely event of a free contest.

On its second and final day, the 20-member EU delegation was treated to an announcement that foreign media correspondents who reported indiscriminate beatings of white Zimbabweans would be treated as terrorists. Meanwhile, in Bulawayo, the second city, Mr. Mugabe's supporters were burning down the headquarters of Mr. Tsvangirai's party.

Mr. Mugabe is unpopular because he wrecked the economy. He did that by sending supporters to seize white-owned commercial farms, destroying production, making the country and its people poorer.

Not everything goes Mr. Mugabe's way. In a courageous act of independence, the Zimbabwe Supreme Court threw out charges of terrorism against Mr. Tsvangirai. As matters stand, he may legally be a candidate.

But don't count on it. Mr. Mugabe appears to be starting anarchy to justify repression and cancel elections. Such behavior by a government is not the war against terrorism, but terrorism itself.

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