Men as young as 15 are being raped at youth-training centres across Zimbabwe in what the opposition claims is a concerted effort by the government of President Robert Mugabe to crush dissent.

Out of 52 male torture victims I interviewed, 38 claim to have been raped or forced to engage in gay sex with other victims. One man, who refused to take part in an orgy, had his eardrums punctured with a screwdriver.

The men accuse the police, army, militia and Mugabe’s dreaded Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) of widespread sexual assaults, which they say are part of a nationwide terrorisation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

British gay campaigner, Peter Tatchell, who tried to arrest Mugabe in Paris in February on charges of human rights abuses, says the Zimbabwe government is guilty of outrageous hypocrisy and homophobia.

Although the Mugabe regime is viciously anti-gay, Tatchell said, many members of the police, army, CIO and youth militia are homosexual sadists. They are raping men as a way of terrorising political opponents and satisfying their own violent, perverted sexual fantasies.

What is happening in Zimbabwe echoes the use of male rape as a weapon of war by the Serb forces in Bosnia. The aim is to ritually humiliate and demoralise opponents of the regime. It shows how low Mugabe’s thugs are now prepared to stoop.

In January this year, Patrick Ndhlovu (20), who worked as a political assistant to an MDC MP, was questioned by the CIO at a camp in the south of the country. His head was forced into a bucket of water during the interrogation.

They kept asking me to recite the local MDC membership list which has thousands of people on it. But, as soon as I tried to say some names, they would drown me again.

Finally, they threw me into a corner and said they were going to dinner, but that if I was hungry I should drink more water.

Late that night, one CIO officer returned with two men from the youth militia who are loyal to President Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party.

They removed all my clothing, then one of the militia put on a condom and raped me. It was very painful and I screamed and this seemed to excite him more.

I was crying and there was a lot of blood. Then the second militia man did the same thing and I saw to my side that the CIO man had removed his trousers to his ankles and was masturbating but he never raped me.

While the second youth was raping me he told the CIO man that he could feel a lot of blood.

The man replied: -˜Just enjoy now this night. If he is injured, the MDC will send him for treatment in England.’

When it was over, they put me in handcuffs and chains and left me without my clothes.

I stayed in the room for four days and I could not go to the toilet because I was in so much pain. Finally some other militia came and undid my chains and told me to put on my clothes and leave.

Patrick fled across the border to South Africa and now shares a room in Johannesburg with four other victims.

Gay sex is illegal in Zimbabwe and President Mugabe is notoriously homophobic. He has denounced lesbians and gay men as worse than pigs and dogs, declaring they have no rights and should leave the country.

From January 2000 to February 2003, 260 opponents of the Mugabe regime were murdered and 3,409 tortured, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum.

The MDC secretary for International Affairs, Mrs Sekai Holland, is aware that male rape is becoming a common method of abuse.

This is not casual sex, she said from her home in Harare. It is a concerted campaign to terrorise our members. Even one of our MPs was raped by 10 men and we are trying to counsel him to go public about the attack.

Mrs Holland said that the rapes were having a debilitating effect. It breaks the person’s resolve and takes them out of circulation for a long time.

More than two million black Zimbabweans have fled to South Africa and a local support group believes that as many as 2,000 are crossing the border every day.

A doctor in Johannesburg, who asked not to be named in case publicity deterred future victims from seeking his help, is providing free medical treatment to 14 of the exiles.

In their culture, rape is worse than death and all my patients are being treated for depression and mental trauma, he said. They show injuries consistent with violent sodomy and, in one case, the penetration was done with a police truncheon. In my 35 years as a doctor, I have never seen such brutality.

In the case of Colin (19), a former bank teller, who was detained near the capital city of Harare, the militia urinated into his mouth after which he was forced to perform oral sex on four of their leaders.

Another victim, who would give his name only as Peter, was arrested by police and youth militia near the southern city of Bulawayo when he failed to produce a membership card for the ruling ZANU-PF party.

There were about 10 of us who had been picked up for the same reason, one boy as young as 15, he recalled. At the youth training camp, we were all stripped and forced to masturbate in front of the militia leaders and then made to have sex with each other.

Then myself and three of the other men were raped by the militia. Finally, some men arrived wearing police uniforms and they beat us with whips before we were released. They told us that anyone who was not a member of the ruling party did not count as a human being in Zimbabwe.

According to Peter Tatchell, Rape by state agents is a crime against humanity under international law. The International Criminal Court should indict the perpetrators. They cannot be allowed to commit these crimes with impunity.

Geoff Hill is a journalist based in Johannesburg. His book, The Battle For Zimbabwe (New Holland Publishers), will be released in August.

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