“Zimbabweans’ rights to freedom of expression, speech and association remain enshrined in their Constitution. Citizens exercising their civil rights, such as Godfrey Kurauone, Hopewell Chin’ono, Jacob Ngarivhume, should have those rights respected,” the US embassy tweeted.
Several civic, Christian and human rights organisations also slammed the State for using hate speech against perceived enemies, among them Catholic priests who recently called government to order.
The government described the Catholic bishops as “genocidal and evilminded” for calling it out on its increasing human rights violations.
Several human rights and political activists, journalists and opposition political supporters are languishing in remand prison, while others have been arrested, charged and released for alleged subversion.
Over 60 opposition members were abducted and tortured in the run-up to the July 31 protests, while more than 30 are in hiding.
Investigative journalist Chin’ono, who unmasked corruption involving US$60 million after senior government officials issued a tender to Drax International without due process, and opposition leader Ngarivhume are also languishing in prison after being denied bail for allegedly organising the anti-corruption protests.
Kurauone, an MDC Alliance activist and Masvingo councillor, was arrested after reporting to the police on July 31 as part of his bail conditions.
Several local, regional and international organisations and governments have condemned the gross human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
But government has denied that there is a human rights crisis in the country despite evidence of torture, abductions and arrests of innocent citizens who are viewed as enemies of the State.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) whose pastoral letter called out the government over the deteriorating human rights situation, was seen as a ploy to “sow seeds of internecine strife as a prelude to civil war and national disintegration” by Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa has gained support from international, regional and local organisations.
The various organisations, in solidarity messages to the bishops, said Mnangagwa’s government must address the human rights issues and acknowledge that there is a crisis in the country which needs to be solved.
Pro-democracy leaders and human rights defenders under the banner Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC) led by political scientist Ibbo Mandaza, Zimbabwe Peace Project director Jestina Mukoko, author Tsitsi Dangarembga, ex-Finance minister and Mavambo/Kusile/ Dawn party leader Simba Makoni and other human rights defenders who include Tony Reeler, Briggs Bomba, Godfrey Kanyenze and Frances Lovemore, yesterday castigated government for using hate speech against the bishops.
“We take the strongest possible exception to the attack on the ZCBC and in particular the defamatory attacks on the person of its chair, Archbishop Robert C Ndlovu. It can only be described as hate speech,” the PCC statement read.
“This is a scurrilous attack on the Catholic Church, one of the strongest domestic supporters of the people of Zimbabwe, which has maintained this support for decades, both before and after Independence.
“The ZCBC commitment to the people of Zimbabwe cannot be doubted or challenged by anyone, except self-serving hypocrites. Thus we call on all churches, national and regional, to express their support for the ZCBC, to express their distaste of the intolerance shown by Zanu-PF and the government of Zimbabwe to citizens exercising their constitutional rights.”
Recently, Zanu-PF acting spokesperson Patrick Chinamasa lashed out at South Africa’s ruling African National Congress party after its secretary-general Ace Magashule expressed concern over the human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
However, the PCC said the move was “ample evidence that Zanu-PF government was unable to conduct itself as a responsible member of the regional and international communities” because it was now “intolerant to advises, even from esrtwhile comrades”.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) said the ZCBC pastoral letter echoed the groans of the people of Zimbabwe who are suffering the effects of the current crisis.
“As the bishops chronicle the tragic situation in Zimbabwe, they showed solidarity with the poor who have no one to defend them in the current situation and call the society to show compassion. They reminded the government that servant leaders place the interests of their followers ahead of their self-interest and needs,” ZimRights said.
“We are appalled that such a message of peace, solidarity with the poor and call to dialogue has been met with hate and venom from the government of Zimbabwe. The response did not address any issues raised by the bishops.”
The organisation said raised concern over the use of hate speech against the bishops, particularly the ethnic attack on the person, identity and dignity of Ndlovu.
The Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) said it was worrying that the government was consistently not taking responsibility for its own failings characterised by corruption, policy inconsistency and failure to unite the nation towards a common vision.
“The denialism that characterises the government of Zimbabwe’s handling of criticism has now become a deeply worrying trend. The blame shifting labelling of critical voices as regime change agents and terrorists smacks of the government’s unwillingness or inability to engage on the basis of ideas as well as robbing citizens of any hope that thing can improve,” ZCC said.
The ZCC said the government response to the ZCBC pastoral letter was overtly emotional and disrespectful for a formal communication, adding that using public media to utter disrespectful communication against the person of Ndlovu does not only present the government as inappropriately deploying State resources, but increases the toxicity already characterising public space.
Opposition Alliance for People’s Agenda (APA) secretary-general Albert Gumbo said:”APA is taken aback, but not surprised, at the reaction of the Government of Zimbabwe to the pastoral letter issued by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference on the current situation in Zimbabwe. For the sake of clarity, and with reference to this particular context, APA would like to point out the following undeniable facts regarding the history of the Catholic Church in the Rhodesia era and independent Zimbabwe.
“During the armed struggle, Zimbabwe benefited from the moral high ground of a just cause as well as the support of a powerful ally in the church. The Catholic Church went as far as providing refuge, in dangerous times, for liberation fighters at its institutions, such as Silveira House.”
MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa also voiced concern and described the diatribe aimed at Catholic bishops as unfortunate and shocking.
“The church, being the moral compass and conscience guardians, must speak truth to power in any society. Government’s vitriol and diatribe aimed at the Zimbabwe Catholic bishops’ position on the current political and economic instability is evidence that Zimbabwe is, indeed, in turmoil,” Chamisa posted on Facebook.