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Zimbabwe police detain activists for watching video of North African revolts

The incident in Zimbabwe is part of a larger crackdown south of the Sahara on pro-democracy activists, many of whom have been inspired by Tunisia and Egypt.

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Armed Zimbabwean police patrol the streets of Harare, Tuesday, March 1, in an effort to thwart a call for mass protests posted on Zimbabwean websites against the longtime authoritarian ruler, President Robert Mugabe.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

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Activists were watching a video of the Tunisia protests when Zimbabwean police stormed the room, sent 45 people to jail, and charged them with treason.

It was the latest sign that Zimbabwe’s octogenarian president, Robert Mugabe – now in his 31st year of ruling the country – is taking no chances of having a North African-style revolt.

“This is just one incident among many,” says Tiseke Kasambala, senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Johannesburg. “He’s showing that he has control of the security agencies and he is not going to tolerate dissent. We’re concerned that this is an indication that things are about to get worse in Zimbabwe, and it’s not helped by the events in the Middle East.”

The Feb. 19 arrests of the 45 activists – including professor and political leader Munyaradzi Gwisai and a number of union and student activists – is part of a larger crackdown south of the Sahara on pro-democracy activists, many of whom have taken inspiration from the courage of young men and women in Tunisia and Egypt who faced down tanks and water cannons and toppled long-ruling leaders.

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