Zimbabwean pro-democracy activists ‘abducted and sexually assaulted’


Three Zimbabwean women activists, one of them a member of parliament, recounted the torture, humiliation and repeated sexual assaults they suffered after being abducted by suspected state security services.

All three are members of the Movement for Democratic Change’s (MDC) youth movement, the main opposition party in the House of Assembly of Zimbabwe.

Their ordeal started when they were arrested at a roadblock guarded by police and soldiers on Wednesday at a protest in Harare against the state’s failure to provide for the poor during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown.

Witnesses said masked assailants bundled the three women into an unmarked Toyota minivan and drove them away.

They then disappeared until they were found on a roadside on Friday morning 60 miles away from the capital by a local man, badly injured and traumatised.

One of the women, Cecilia Chimbiri, 33, told the Guardian they were taken to a remote, wooded area where they were beaten, stripped naked, sexually assaulted with firearms, and forced to drink each other’s urine.

Another of the women, Joana Mamombe, one of the youngest Zimbabwean members of parliament, described how they were forced to march and sing protest songs.

“They were pouring water on us. They beat us if we stopped. They made us drink each other’s urine. They were fondling Cecilia,” Mamombe, 36, told reporters at a private Harare hospital where she is receiving treatment.

Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the MDC, called for international intervention.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took power in Zimbabwe as president after the fall of Robert Mugabe in 2017, was last year accused by Amnesty International of a “ruthless” and systematic crackdown on human rights.

Zimbabwean police said they were investigating the suspected abduction case and suggested that imposters were responsible for the attack.

Authorities in Zimbabwe have previously suggested that abductions of trade unionists, lawyers and opposition activists have been staged to discredit the government.

Nick Mangwana, the government’s information secretary, called on the three women “to work with the law enforcement agents in order to bring the truth to light”.

“The three women were part of a group of MDC youths that defied the lockdown laws in the country and took part in an illegal demonstration,” Mangwana said in a statement, adding that police started looking for them after they failed to show up for questioning.

Dozens of pro-democracy campaigners, trade unionists and opposition officials have been abducted by suspected state security services in recent years.

Most have been released after several hours, though many have been badly beaten, stripped, threatened or otherwise mistreated.

The European Union on Friday said it was “deeply concerned” about the “torture and humiliation” reported by the MDC members and urged authorities to investigate their “enforced disappearance”. (Source: The Guardian)