A planned peaceful anti-corruption protest by Zimbabweans on Friday has been thwarted by the authorities who launched a witch-hunt against political and human rights activists suspected of being behind the demonstration.
The police published a list of names of human rights defenders who are wanted for questioning in connection with the planned protests, forcing a number of activists to go into hiding, said Amnesty International.
A number of opposition party leaders are also understood to be wanted by the police, six of whom have already been arrested.
“The brutal assault on political activists and human rights defenders who have had the courage to call out alleged corruption and demand accountability from their government is intensifying,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“The persecution of these activists is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system and mockery of justice.”
Six activists have been arrested or abducted in the past few days, to prevent the protests from taking place.
Opposition MDC-Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and Henry Chivanga, an activist fighting for rights of people with disabilities are among those who were arrested on Friday.
Police also arrested the sister of investigative journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu on July 30, and refused to release her until the journalist appeared at Bulawayo Central police station. Mduduzi Mathuthu is the editor of online publication Zimlive and has been charged with planning the protests. His sister was released on the same day.
“This latest witch-hunt and repression of peaceful dissent is a continuation of what we have seen in the country in recent years, including the abductions and arbitrary arrests of those who are critical of the government, in an attempt to muzzle differing views,” Mwananyanda said.
“The thwarting of the protest illustrates the Zimbabwean authorities’ total intolerance of criticism.”
In the lead up to Friday’s planned protests, authorities have been beefing up security in main cities, including sealing off the Harare Central Business District, under the pretext of enforcing COVID-19 regulations.
The government launched a crackdown last week ahead of protests with the arrest of prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume.
While Chin’ono was arrested for “inciting public violence”, it appears that he was targeted for exposing allegations of corruption in the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment related to COVID-19.
Ngarivhume had called for a national peaceful protest against corruption, which eats away at people’s livelihoods and contributes to denial of human rights.
Both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume remain in police custody and have been denied bailed on the grounds that they remain a risk to the peace of the country.
Mwananyanda said that “Zimbabwean authorities must stop using COVID-19 as a pretext for restricting human rights. Peaceful protest is not a crime, and the motivations for crushing this demonstration are plain to see.”
“Zimbabweans must be allowed to freely exercise their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities must stop harassing, intimidating and arresting people who have done nothing more than peacefully express their opinions,” Mwananyanda said in conclusion. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)