Monday, July 7, 2008

Zimbabwe: Youth Militias Accused of Holding Women as Sex Slaves

HARARE, ZIMBABWE -- She has to call the young men her "comrades." She cooks food for the comrades and serves them. She sweeps the comrades' floor and cleans up after them.

And whenever any of the comrades want sex, she is raped.

Asiatu, 21, is a prisoner of the comrades at a command base of the ruling ZANU-PF party, one of 900 such camps set up by the party to terrorize Zimbabweans into voting for Robert Mugabe in the one-man presidential runoff late last month and extending his 28-year rule.

The election is over, but the terror isn't.

"I'm still at the base. I'm being raped by four or five men daily," she whispers, bursting into tears. "Any time they want, night or day.

"To me, a comrade is a murderer, someone who's cruel."

She has been at the base for about 10 weeks, ever since she was abducted in the middle of the night because her mother is a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

She has to stay most of each day and night at the base, a sex slave of the thuggish youth militias unleashed by the government. The Times interviewed her during one of the several short daily periods she is allowed to leave the ZANU-PF base.

When asked why she doesn't escape during that time, Asiatu gives a chilling explanation: "They promised me if I run away, my mother will be killed."

A slight, pretty figure, about 5 feet tall, Asiatu wears a flowing black dress with splashes of red. Her braids are tied back by an extravagant puff of red tulle. Her eyes are sad and fearful. And she rarely smiles.

She says she looked forward to the June 27 runoff and the result, assuming that she would be freed.

But with the election over and no sign of her imprisonment ending, she has lost hope. She is fearful she may be pregnant, and terrified she may have HIV/AIDS. She is the sole breadwinner in her family, earning some money selling vegetables, but has not been able to because she spends most of her time at the base.

"I pray to God most of the time. I pray, 'You are the one who knows my future. Help me. Stop this happening to me.' "...


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