Zimbabwe urged to halt violent crackdown on dissent

Riot police arrest and forcibly apprehend protestors during protests in Harare, Friday, Aug, 16, 2019. The main opposition Movement For Democratic Change party is holding protests over deteriorating economic conditions in the country as well as to try and force Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa to set up a transitional authority to address the crisis and organize credible elections. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has been urged to stop the current crackdown on people intending to stage public protests over the deteriorating economic situation in the southern African nation.

In a statement, Freedom House said Mnangagwa’s government, which promised to usher in a democratic state following the ouster of former President Robert Mugabe in a military intervention in 2017 and subsequent presidential elections in 2018, is violating citizens’ rights and freedoms.

“The government of Zimbabwe must end its violent crackdown on dissent in the country and immediately investigate reports of beatings and torture by state security agents,” said Jon Temin, director of Africa programs at Freedom House.

Temin said, “These attacks violate Zimbabweans’ rights to free assembly, association, and expression, and have continued despite repeated promises by President Emmerson Mnangagwa that his government would usher in a new dispensation that respects fundamental rights. If Zimbabwe truly wants to break with its abusive past, those found responsible for these heinous acts should be held to account.”

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

FILE: A protester lies unconsciously on the ground after being beaten by police near Unity Square in Harare on August 16, 2019.
A protester lies unconsciously on the ground after being beaten by police near Unity Square in Harare on August 16, 2019.

The attacks come in the wake of protests organized by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change that were expected to be staged in Harare, on August 16, and later in other parts of the country. Suspected security agents reportedly abducted, beat, and tortured activists, civil society leaders, and members of the opposition in the days leading up to the planned protests.

Police subsequently prohibited the demonstrations, but hundreds of Zimbabweans congregated in defiance of the ban on August 16. Police violently dispersed the protesters using whips, batons, and tear gas. Arrests of civil society leaders and human rights defenders have continued since then.

Several countries have expressed concern over human rights violations in Zimbabwe being allegedly perpetrated by Mnangagwa’s government.

In a joint statement recently, the heads of mission of the European Union, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States of America said the government should respect the Zimbabwe Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, movement and assembly and the right for people to protest peacefully.

“Intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives and opposition politicians-prior to, during and following the demonstrations in Harare on 16 August – are cause for great concern. The Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to personal security from violence and prohibits physical or psychological torture. The heads of Missions urge the authorities to respect these fundamental rights and to hold perpetrators of violence legally responsible.”

They urged President Mnangagwa’s government to respect the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, association and expressions as well as to peaceful protest. – VOA