The Zimbabwean authorities should know that the world is watching. The authorities must end the escalating crackdown on dissent and respect, protect, and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. There must be full accountability for these attacks, which left scores of people injured and shows the government’s contempt for human rights//CRIMSON TAZVINZWA/
During his first year as President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa has presided over a systematic and brutal crackdown on human rights, including the violent suppression of protests and a witch-hunt against anyone who dared challenge his government, Amnesty International said today.
The socio-economic conditions of many Zimbabweans have also declined over the past 12 months. The weak economy has seen fuel prices skyrocket and high inflation push the prices of basic commodities such as bread through the roof as well as eroding people’s salaries.
“What we have witnessed in Zimbabwe since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power is a ruthless attack on human rights, with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association increasingly restricted and criminalized,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“The authorities have shown blatant contempt for basic freedoms and they have demonstrated that there is no space for dissent in the so-called “new dispensation”. Time and again they have resorted to the same brutal tactics that were used by President Mnangagwa’s predecessor Robert Mugabe to clampdown on human rights.”
Crackdown on protests
Just last week, baton-wielding police mounted a vicious assault on peaceful protesters who gathered in Harare in anticipation of the “16 August” national protests against deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country. Scores of people were left injured following the crackdown. On Thursday 15 August before the march, Zimbabwean police announced they were banning the protests through a press statement, saying the demonstrations would turn violent. After the aborted protest, about 128 activists were arrested and placed on remand. Other protests that were planned to take place in four other cities around the country were also banned and some activists arrested.
At the start of the year, Amnesty International documented at least 15 killings by police when nationwide protests erupted on 14 January, sparked by the announcement of fuel price hikes. The state carried out mass arrests which saw hundreds of people being arrested on charges including public violence. By the end of April, close to 400 people were convicted by the courts, with most of them through hastily conducted trials.
During the protests, the police used lethal and excessive force such as tear gas, batons, water cannons and live ammunition. They also launched a house-to-house hunt to track down and silence the organizers of the protest and other prominent civil society leaders and activists. Some of those arrested – including Evan Mawarire, a well-known local cleric and activist, and trade union leader Peter Mutasa – still face trumped-up treason charges in connection with the protests. The state has charged an unprecedented number of 22 people with subverting a constitutional government in relation to the protests.
The pursuit of those perceived to be linked to protest movements continued throughout the year. In May, seven human rights defenders were arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport as they returned from a capacity-building workshop on non-violent protest tactics in the Maldives. The activists, Stabile Dewah, George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura, Nyasha Mpahlo, Farirai Gumbonzvanda and Rita Nyamupinga were accused of “plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government”. They are yet to face trial.
Abductions and torture of human rights activists to silence them from freely expressing themselves continue. On 21 August, comedian Samantha Kureya was abducted by masked men from her house and tortured after publishing a skit on police brutality.
“In his first year in office, President Mnangagwa’s government has demonstrated little observance of human rights and adherence to the rule of law, continuing the trend that we saw under Robert Mugabe,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.
“As he enters his second year in office, the president has the opportunity to start on a fresh slate by immediately taking steps to ensure that his government ends the escalating attacks on human rights and impunity for human rights violations. We urge him to build a Zimbabwe that has a culture of respect for the human rights of everyone.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn into office on 26 August 2018 following the election on 30 July 2018 that saw his ZANU-PF party claiming victory. The vote combined presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.