In a preemptive move to prevent a democratic uprising in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe has cracked down on those watching the BBC or Al Jazeera. The mere act of watching such videos might land someone in prison for 20 years.

Please consider Arrests in Zimbabwe for Seeing Videos

Dozens of students, trade unionists and political activists who gathered to watch Al Jazeera and BBC news reports on the uprisings that brought down autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt have been arrested on suspicion of plotting to oust President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.

James Sabau, a spokesman for the police force, which is part of the security services controlled by Mr. Mugabe’s party, was quoted in Monday’s state-controlled newspaper as saying that the 46 people in custody were accused of participating in an illegal political meeting where they watched videos “as a way of motivating them to subvert a constitutionally elected government.”

The evidence seized by the police included a video projector, two DVD discs and a laptop.

Lawyers for the men and women in custody said they had not yet been formally charged but had been advised that they might be accused of “attempting to overthrow the government by unconstitutional means,” a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Mugabe, who turned 87 on Monday, and his party ruled Zimbabwe single-handedly from 1980 until 2009, when regional leaders pressured him into forming a power-sharing government with his longtime political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, after a discredited 2008 election. Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from a June runoff that year to protest state-sponsored beatings of thousands of his supporters. An estimated 350 people died in the violence.

And while the army in Egypt did not side with Mr. Mubarak when his people rose up against him, most analysts assume that the leadership of Zimbabwe’s military would try to crush any such movement — though such an effort would also severely test the loyalty of impoverished soldiers to their military commanders.

“Indeed, the single most important lesson from Tunisia and Egypt is that we as Zimbabweans are our own liberators,” Trevor Ncube, owner of three independent newspapers in Zimbabwe and The Mail & Guardian in South Africa, wrote this week in The Mail & Guardian. Mr. Ncube added later, “The world will only help us when we stand up and fight for our freedom and reclaim our country from Mugabe and the arrogant clique around him.”

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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