Opposition political activists and human rights defenders have been urged to exercise extreme caution due to rising suspicions that they could be targets for food poisoning or abduction.
The deaths of several prominent opposition and civic leaders due to colon cancer in the last few years has raised eyebrows, with critics suspicious that they may have been assassinated “Russian-style”.
Russia is considered a dangerous place for government critics, who risk dying agonising deaths due to poisoning.
High profile poisoning Russian cases include that of Alexander Litvinenko, a former intelligence officer who was poisoned by two Russians in a suspected assassination in 2006 in London, and Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK’s intelligence services who was poisoned in the city of Salisbury, England alongside his daughter Yulia.
Professor of law at the University of Kent, Alex Magaisa advised politically exposed persons (PEPs) to rather err on the side of caution rather than fear being considered paranoic. He wrote:
One of the first lessons I learnt in the field when I went onto the dance-floor was that you have to be very selective about whom you tell things especially your whereabouts in times of crisis. Because if they are caught and tortured, they’ll squeal.
The other was that the one person you can truly trust is yourself. The third was that persons closest to you can be the most dangerous. That’s because you trust them and you lower your guard. If they are weak they are easily bought. If they are captured, they’ll squeal.
The other is the honey-trap. Politicians or technocrats in corridors of power find themselves enjoying growing attention and adulation. The delusional might think they have suddenly become more handsome or beautiful. But not all such attention is innocent.
And if you’re having a drink, you can’t leave it unattended at the table. If you’re going to the loo, make sure it’s done. Avoid being a regular at a single spot. You can’t be predictable. But humans are creatures of habit, a weakness that’s easy to exploit.
When you eat, a buffet is a way to go. Eat from the communal pot! Reject special treatment. It might seem special to order room service, but if you’re a PEP (politically exposed person) it’s not a smart idea. The kitchens are infested; some waiters do not only deliver food.
Also, carry your own water. Cut out the middleman. They know your hotel room before you know it. Now, I know this sounds like paranoia but our political space is not normal. It’s had-hat area and you can’t be too careful. Always err on the side of caution.
Recently, Tawanda Muchehiwa, a 22-year-old Midlands State University (MSU) journalism student was abducted in broad daylight and there are suspicions that he could have been trapped by Tendai Masotsha, the MDC Alliance women’s assembly chairperson in Bulawayo province.
Muchehiwa’s abductors then attempted to use his phone to waylay other activists, including Thandekile Moyo, who initiated the #ZANUPFMUSTGO hashtag and Samkeliso Tshuma.
Both were wise enough to avoid falling into the trap but Muchehiwa’s friend, Collen Dhlamini fell for it when he was baited with a WhatsApp message from his phone. He was given a thorough beating by the abductors.