SUSPECTED security agents allegedly abducted and tortured Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) leader Obert Masaraure for leading a teachers’ strike, dealing a blow to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s bid to re-engage with the European Union (EU).

ARTUZ yesterday alleged that Masaraure was on Wednesday abducted and tortured by security agents, who told him to stop leading a strike by disaffected teachers.

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Pictures of Masaraure with evidence of torture went viral yesterday and EU’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, tweeted that the kidnapping and torture was “unjust and unacceptable”.

“ARTUZ has been leading a just-ended three-day nationwide strike over low salaries and high cost of living. This was a legally protected strike and a 14-day notice had been given to the State,” the union said.

“At least six men with masked faces and heavily armed with AK-47s abducted him from his Waterfalls home in view of his wife and children.

“They took all cellphones in the house. He was taken to a remote area along Seke Road, where he was stripped naked, severely assaulted and interrogated for hours about ARTUZ’s industrial action and told to stop mobilising teachers to go on strike.

“They asked him why he was still working as a teacher when they had suspended his salary. The line of questioning shows a clear link between the persecution of teachers by the employer through withholding of salaries, intimidation and torture as punishment for legitimate union activities.”

The alleged abduction has brought into question the Mnangagwa administration’s sincerity to curbing human rights abuses, with activists saying attacks had become worse than during former President Robert Mugabe’s dark era.

Zimbabwe and the EU on Wednesday kicked off their first formal dialogue in 17 years to draw a line under Mugabe’s confrontational approach to diplomacy with the West, which Harare hopes would thaw frosty relations and lead to resumption of direct aid to its battered economy.

The talks zeroed in on the regime’s poor human rights record and the need for critical political and economic reforms and development cooperation.

The EU has not directly funded Zimbabwe since the turn of the millennium, and has said any direct resumption of aid would be predicated upon Harare’s willingness to reform.

MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said Mnangagwa was shooting himself in the foot by allowing his security agents to abduct and torture Masaraure soon after opening a new chapter with the EU.

“He is a patriot who is demanding better public delivery of education services. It is quite clear that he is being targeted for his dissenting views,” Mafume said.

“The dark days are still with us. Even signs of goodwill from the EU are being washed down the drain by reckless and ruthless behaviour. The MDC demands an end to the terrorisation of civic society organisation’s and union leaders.”

“Abduction and torture of Obert Masaraure is strongly condemned. ZLHR [Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights] is very disturbed that suspected State agents continue to commit international crime of torture,” the rights lawyers said.

But police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said he was unaware of Masaraure’s abduction.

“Can I get back to you, say after 30 minutes. I need to check with Harare province if ever such a case was reported?” Nyathi said.

He was not answering his mobile, thereafter.

The attack on Masaraure comes as seven civil society activists are languishing in remand prison for allegedly plotting to unseat Mnangagwa after they attended a workshop in the Maldives funded by a Serbian non-governmental organisation, which authorities claim was aimed at equipping them with skills to topple the government.

The activists include George Makoni, Nyasha Mpahlo, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura, Farirai Gumbonzvanda, Stabile Dewa, and Rita Nyampinga.

They are in remand prison for attending a workshop organised by the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Maldives.

In a statement issued yesterday, CANVAS said the arrest of the seven was illegal.

“CANVAS would like to inform Zimbabweans and the international community that the charges against these activists are blatantly false. The charges include: ‘Subversion’, ‘counterintelligence’ and ‘being trained in use of small arms’,” read the statement.

CANVAS said its mission was building strong societies through non-violence.