HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe police have detained the spokesman of the veterans association that turned against President Robert Mugabe last week, raising concerns of a crackdown on what had been the president's most loyal supporters.
Douglas Mahiya's detention came shortly after the 92-year-old Mugabe on Wednesday vowed "severe" punishment for the authors of the harshly worded statement by the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association.
Mahiya faces a year in jail if convicted on charges of insulting or undermining the authority of the president, said his lawyer, Andrew Makoni.
"They specifically mentioned the statement, but also said he has been insulting the president from 6 April to 21 July with some of his unnamed colleagues," Makoni told The Associated Press.
He said Mahiya was likely to appear in court Friday. Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said he was detained Wednesday night.
In addition, the secretary-general of the veterans association, Victor Matemadanda, was picked up at his home by unidentified men Thursday morning, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights organization reported.
Charamba said she was unaware of that incident. Matemadanda's phones were switched off.
The veterans have been Mugabe's core loyalists since the southern African country's 1970s independence war against white rule, often using violence to crush the opposition.
Frustration is growing in Zimbabwe over its rapidly deteriorating economy and alleged corruption, which the veterans' statement blamed on "bankrupt leadership."
The association, whose members are in their 60s and older, also announced it would no longer support Mugabe's political campaigns.
The 92-year-old Mugabe told thousands of supporters Wednesday that Western countries had infiltrated the veterans association, and he demanded new leadership for the group.
Despite growing criticism that has included nationwide protests organized via social media, Mugabe has repeatedly said he plans to run again in 2018 and rule until he dies.