HARARE, Zimbabwe – The country's main opposition leader said Wednesday that police beat him repeatedly in the head, back, knees and arm and that he lost a lot of blood in an attack that seemed intended "to inflict as much harm as they could."
Morgan Tsvangirai, who remains hospitalized, underwent a brain scan, and his lawyer said he may have suffered a skull fracture and internal bleeding as a result of police beatings.
Tsvangirai, 54, and more than 40 other opposition figures were arrested at a prayer meeting Sunday in the latest crackdown on dissent by President Robert Mugabe's security forces and political supporters.
Tsvangirai told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview from his hospital bed that police beat him on the head, and that he suffered body blows to the knees and back, and that his arm was broken. He said he "lost a lot of blood" and that he was given two pints.
"I was subjected to a lot of beatings, and random beatings, but I think the intention was to inflict as much harm as they could," he told the BBC. "I suffered injuries on the head, six stitches, and body blows and a broken arm. ... Overall, I think the most serious injury was the head injury because I've lost a lot of blood."
Tsvangirai was in a hospital unit where he could be more closely monitored and was awaiting the results of a brain scan for a suspected skull fracture, said Tafadza Mugabe, one of his lawyers.
At a brief court appearance Tuesday, Tsvangirai's right eye was swollen shut and his head partly shaved to reveal crudely stitched gashes.
"It was damn barbaric," said British Ambassador Andrew Pockock, who was in court.
Another 34 activists were released from the private hospital in Harare early Wednesday and reunited with their families.
Those freed were told to return to the Harare magistrates' court when it opened Wednesday, but amid chaos at the court no proceedings were held, and the activists returned to their homes.
Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer for the group, and police were not present at the court.
"If they want us, the police can call us," she said.
Tsvangirai attorney Innocent Chagonda said police withdrew from Harare's Avenues Clinic later Wednesday. He said a High Court order issued late Monday ordered police to charge or release the opposition leaders and activists by noon on Tuesday. None was charged.
"As far as we are concerned, they are now free men," he said.
Tsvangirai, leader of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, and colleagues from other opposition and civic groups were ferried in ambulances and buses from the magistrates' court to the hospital. Many sustained severe bruising and internal injuries after the police raid on the prayer meeting that authorities had declared illegal.
Mtetwa said police forced Tsvangirai and many of her other clients to lay face down and then beat them savagely and repeatedly with truncheons both at the scene of the arrests and at police stations.
"We were made to lie on our stomach and they beat with batons and iron bars. When one group of police got tired another started on us," said William Bango, one of Tsvangirai's aides who was sent home from hospital Wednesday, told reporters.
Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway faction of Tsvangirai's party, also had head wounds, and Lovemore Madhuku, head of a militant reform group, suffered a broken arm.
"The world community again has been shown that the regime of Robert Mugabe is ruthless and repressive and creates only suffering for the people of Zimbabwe," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to crush Sunday's gathering by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of opposition, church and civic groups, in Harare's western township of Highfield.
Police shot and killed one opposition activist, identified as Gift Tandare. Two mourners were slightly injured Tuesday at his funeral in skirmishes with police, witnesses said.
Among those arrested Sunday in Highfield were two journalists on assignment for The Associated Press, Harare freelance photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi and freelance television producer Tendai Musiya. Both were also released from official custody but Musiya was still undergoing medical checks and was expected to return home shortly.
U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell expressed disappointment at what he called the passivity of neighboring states, including South Africa, in the face of the suffering of Zimbabweans.
"One would hope that in the glaring light of the growing brutality of the Zimbabwean government, those states would finally feel moved to act. They can no longer deny that there is a real crisis on the way here," Dell told the British Broadcasting Corp.
Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad issued a statement Tuesday saying South Africa was concerned about the declining political and economic situation in Zimbabwe.
"South Africa urges the Zimbabwean government to ensure that the rule of law including respect for rights of all Zimbabweans and leaders of various political parties is respected," he said.
Germany, which holds the European Union presidency, said "it was deeply concerned" about the opposition leaders' maltreatment, and the Zimbabwean government was responsible for their safety and well-being.
John Kufuor, president of Ghana, told SABC radio news that the African Union "is very concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe."
Mugabe's opponents blame the 83-year-old leader for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and inflation of 1,600 percent — the highest in the world. They have demanded the ouster of Mugabe, Zimbabwe's only ruler since independence from Britain in 1980.
State radio Tuesday quoted Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu as saying opposition activists had attacked police and were to blame for the violence.
Authorities suspected an "underground movement" of opponents was planning a violent campaign against the government, he said.
Nathan Shamuyarira, chief spokesman for Mugabe's ruling party, said Tsvangirai defied a police ban on Sunday's meeting. "Tsvangirai really asked for the trouble in which he has found himself," he told South African state television.