HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Security agents vigorously enforced a lockdown Thursday, blocking people from entering the capital a day ahead of planned anti-government protests, while activists warned of mounting human rights abuses.
Police and soldiers manned checkpoints and ordered hundreds of people trying to enter Harare to return home. In the city center, security agents ordered people to leave and businesses to close.
Similar actions were being witnessed in other smaller towns across the country, according to the Zimbabwe Peace Project, an NGO that says it has monitors scattered across the country.
Organizers say demonstrators originally planned to protest alleged government corruption but are now targeting the counry’s ruling political party, ZANU-PF, using the hashtag #ZANUPFmustgo.”
Tensions are rising in the southern African country as the economy implodes. Inflation is more than 700 percent, the second highest in the world.
The World Food Program on Thursday projected that the number of Zimbabweans facing food insecurity could reach 8.6 million people by the end of the year.
That would be “a staggering 60 percent of the population – owing to the combined effects of drought, economic recession and the pandemic,” said the WFP, appealing for more money to intervene.
Addressing senior ruling party officials on Wednesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa described the planned protests as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government.” He warned that security agents “will be vigilant and on high alert.”
The opposition and human rights NGOs have said they are witnessing abuses such as arrests, detentions, beatings and stalking of activists and ordinary people accused of violating lockdown rules.
Police and government spokespeople have dismissed the allegations, even as a prominent journalist and a politician behind the protests have spent close to two weeks in detention.
A High Court judge on Thursday postponed the bail hearing Hopewell Chin’ono, the journalist, and Jacob Ngarivhume, the politician. They are accused of planning the protests.
Mnangagwa’s administration accuses the U.S government of funding the two men and other activists involved in mobilizing the protest, with a ruling party spokesman this week describing the U.S ambassador as “a thug.”