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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April, 2003, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Zimbabwe 'abuse stepped up'
Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe
The bishops are monitoring claims against Robert Mugabe's regime
The harassment and torture of political activists in Zimbabwe was stepped up during the Cricket World Cup, senior church leaders have said.

The Solidarity Peace Trust, a new group of South African and Zimbabwean bishops, said human rights monitors documented at least 80 cases of protesters detained in connection with three World Cup cricket matches in Bulawayo.

Their report found that all those detained were either tortured or severely ill treated, Reuters said.

The bishops - four from Zimbabwe and two from South Africa - drew parallels between the brutality in Zimbabwe and the repression suffered in apartheid era South Africa.

Bishop Kevin Dowling said: "Quiet diplomacy in our view is not working".

We should bring the same kind of pressures that were brought to bear on the apartheid regime [in South Africa]
Bishop Kevin Dowling
The Zimbabwean authorities had promised to allow peaceful protests during the high-profile sporting competition in February and March.

Bishop Dowling said the findings suggested the perpetrators were now acting with impunity, as they seemed unconcerned about revealing their identity or leaving clear evidence of torture.

"This kind of systematic harassment and abuse of the basic human rights of ordinary people is what I personally experienced in South Africa and it is exactly the same that is happening in Zimbabwe," he said.

"We should bring the same kind of pressures that were brought to bear on the apartheid regime in Zimbabwe at the moment because the situation is exactly the same."

It is no coincidence that the bishops have chosen Christian holy week to launch their solidarity peace trust, which aims to monitor the mounting claims of human rights abuses.

Good Friday coincides with Independence Day in Zimbabwe this year, something Bishop Dowling said gives them hope.

But our correspondent in neighbouring South Africa says few people in Zimbabwe have much to celebrate on Independence Day.

Half the population are hungry, the economy has collapsed and there is nothing in the shops. The price of petrol has gone up 200% in the last week.

Reports of state-sponsored violence, police torture and other human rights abuses are increasing as the opposition promises more peaceful mass action like the recent general strike that brought the cities to a standstill, says the BBC's Alastair Leithead.

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