President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe in the 22nd African Heads of State Conference on February 21, 2003 in Paris, France.
Credit: Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images

On the day that Majongwe had disappeared, he told me, he was taken to Harare's central police station, put in leg irons, and handed off to state security agents. They drove him to a rural police station 35 miles out of town, where he was blindfolded and then taken to an even more remote post. He thought it was a farm. "I could smell pig stench," he said. There, interrogators accused Majongwe of belonging to the MDC and of being sponsored by the American government. He denied it.

Majongwe was calm as he described his ordeal. "I was beaten, I was blindfolded, I was handcuffed – you see where the skin is peeling off? That's where the electrical cables were tied around." He showed me a set of fading scars on his wrists and his ankles. Electrodes had been tied to his genitals, his anus, the inside of his mouth, and his fingertips. "All the places the scars won't be so visible," he said. "One thing: I never broke. That much I can say. I never lost my nerve."

Majongwe looked at his battered arms. "These were more visible last week," he said about the scars. "You see, they only beat me for three hours. Then they threw me back in the cell to heal – they wanted the swellings on my mouth to disappear, which they rightly did. You can see. . . ." He moved closer to show me his mouth, then he looked up. He flinched. "So. And there is the state agent," he said quietly. "He has come." I turned around. A man in a red shirt sat behind a pillar, talking on a cellphone. I turned back. Majongwe was gone.

Since the passage of the Public Order and Security Act, in January of last year, a series of new laws now ban virtually all dissenting activity or statements that could be construed as "engendering hostility" toward Mugabe or the government. The most draconian of these is the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, passed one month after Mugabe's election in April 2002, which shut down journalistic scrutiny almost completely.

It is now illegal to criticize or otherwise "embarrass" the president or his party. Traveling to regions dubbed "sensitive" – generally MDC strongholds – is a risky business. As a rule, independent journalists are banned from most political events, and covering an election is almost completely out of the question. So is reporting in the region where an election is being held. Mugabe's network of spies and secret police have fanned out across the country, embedding themselves in local communities. Even if journalists were able to report freely, many people are simply too afraid to talk to them.

Thus, it was not surprising that the discovery of bodies last October underneath the 17th hole of a golf course in the Matabeleland city of Bulawayo went unreported. They were found clogging up the sewage system. Several were decapitated; all showed signs of torture. The discovery coincided with a fierce election campaign that had raged all fall in a nearby region called Insiza. It was a "by-election" to fill the seat of the local member of parliament, who had died. Insiza was an MDC stronghold. Zanu-PF won the election. Robert Mugabe came to Insiza to congratulate the winner. He dressed in a white baseball cap and a green-and-white shirt, the fabric printed with his image. "Unity, unity, and more unity!" he said, raising his fist in the Zanu-PF salute. "That's the way we have known one another. And that's how it should be forever."

On November 7, 2002, Learnmore Jongwe's death was ruled a suicide by Zimbabwean authorities. Since then, a number of MDC officials have been tortured, imprisoned, and threatened, along with other opposition supporters. Since April 2003, general strikes have swept through the country, the largest and most violent being a weeklong demonstration in early June. Tens of thousands stayed home from work to protest Zimbabwe's plummeting economy and Mugabe's continued refusal to resign. The strike, during which demonstrators were beaten and tear-gassed by police and paramilitaries sent in by the government, was led by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who, by all accounts, rightfully won the March 2002 presidential election.

On June 6, 2003 Tsvangirai was arrested and charged with trying to incite his followers to overthrow the president by violence. Two weeks later, he was released on $12,000 bail. He is also facing trial for plotting to murder the president, a charge he refutes. He now faces treason charges on two counts. If convicted, Tsvangirai could face the death penalty.

The U.S., which has largely kept quiet on Zimbabwean affairs, has now publicly called for Mugabe's resignation. Writing in The New York Times in June, Secretary of State Colin Powell accused Mugabe of "violent misrule," saying that his time "has come and gone."