The Times of London's Jonathan Clayton was arrested in Zimbabwe for working as a journalist without accreditation.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â He was fined and deported this week. In an article reprinted in the Sunday Times, Clayton describes his torture at the hands of Zimbabwe security forces.
They are the words every foreign correspondent dreads hearing. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWe are going to have to detain you for a little while, sir.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â They hit me like a boxerÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s blow to the solar plexus.
Journalists are banned from reporting in Zimbabwe and have to resort to all manner of ruses to gain entry. Mine had been to slip in through the quiet second city of Bulawayo .
I used a second passport which carried no mention of my work with The Times, or so I thought.
An Immigration Officer spotted a years-old entry stamp to South Africa with an oblique reference to ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œreporting dutiesÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
I was put in the back of a van and taken off to the local headquarters some 8km away.
At Bulawayo central police station, I began to panic. I was taken to a dingy room where I was told to hand over everything except for a pair of trousers and one top.
While the policemenÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s attention was elsewhere, I grabbed my phone and stuffed it into my crotch. Barefoot I was led to cell four where, miraculously, my phone picked up a signal and I managed to send a few SMSs.
Moments later, I was hauled outside.
The interrogation lasted several hours. The officers were young and I parried their inquiries with little difficulty. Around 9pm two stocky figures walked in. I was kicked off my chair and told to sit on the floor.
The larger of the two yelled: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ You are in big trouble, your lawyer is not coming. We have had enough. We are elevating this to another level and it will not be pleasant. It will not be nice. If you co-operate it will end, okay?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
I was led to another room. A large woman in a red dress and sneakers walked in and demanded my phone. They searched me and found it, and the questioning grew more hostile.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œWhat is your mission, what is your mission?ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â was a favourite question repeated over and over.
With every answer, I seemed to slip further into Mr MugabeÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s vortex of terror.
Around midnight the atmosphere changed for the worse. A man I dubbed Mr Nasty walked in. He searched me aggressively, handcuffed my wrists and blindfolded me. I was pushed into a car and soon realised I was being transferred to the feared state security service, Central Intelligence Organisation .
I was taken to a room and pushed onto a chair. The handcuffs were unlocked and the blindfold lifted. I found myself staring at Mr Nasty and the fat woman. There were a dozen other security officers.
The interrogation began. I stuck to my story, that although I was linked to The Times, I was not there to work. It drove them crazy.
Mr NastyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s patience finally snapped. He ordered me to kneel in front of him. The first blow came so swiftly and hard it sent me reeling across the floor. As I recovered a second one crashed on to my left ear, leaving a pinging sound in my head.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œ We are not fools you know, you think we are fools.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
He stormed out of the room. I never saw him again. The questions continued until 5am but the intensity had gone. I was taken back to the police station. The stinking cell had never seemed so welcoming.
I stayed in the cell most of the day, dreading another night of interrogation. It never came.
Instead, a lawyer finally made contact and after one of the longest weekends I have known, I appeared in court last Monday. I was remanded in custody.
In the new cell, we were 22. Most of my new cellmates were policemen and soldiers who had deserted and, despite my initial fears, were wonderfully friendly and warm. They gave me what little food they had left from the day ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â half an orange, a banana and some dry bread.
On Wednesday, I was found guilty on a minor immigration charge, fined Z20-billion, and banned from returning. The next day I was deported to South Africa.
Before I left a sympathetic policeman told me: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œZimbabwe is a good country. One day things will change and you will be back.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚ÂÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Â Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â© The Times, London