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Amnesty International: Zimbabwe Security Forces Killed 10 People Under Nation's COVID-19 Lockdown


Members of the Zimbabwe National Army rehearse, April 16, 2019, for this Thursday's Independence Day celebrations in Harare (Columbus S. Mavhunga)

Amnesty International (AI) says Zimbabwean security forces killed 10 people and the government used COVID-19 regulations to justify severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

In its latest report, AI said the government deployed security forces to abduct, assault and torture perceived critics, and opposition members and leaders.

“Police and security agents killed at least 10 people. Women were denied access to essential maternal health care, and violence against women and girls was widespread.”

AI noted that on March 30, the government introduced measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, imposing punitive movement restrictions, initially for three weeks but periodically extending throughout the year.

It said information about lockdown rules was unclear, and their implementation appeared to be arbitrary. On 21 July, a national curfew between 6pm and 6am was imposed. “The pandemic exacerbated the economic crisis and the authorities were unable to provide social security to vulnerable people.” According to the United Nations, seven million people were in need of humanitarian assistance and 4.3 million people were severely food insecure.

In July, 2021, opposition members called on people to participate in the nationwide ‘July 31’ protests against alleged state corruption, economic hardship, and to demand the president’s resignation. AI said the country remained in political turmoil and as a result, in August, the South African government appointed two special envoys to visit Zimbabwe and identify possible resolutions to ongoing violence by security forces against the population.

EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE

AI said security forces “frequently used excessive force to prevent or crackdown on peaceful protests and to impose lockdown restrictions, killing at least 10 people. Security forces also arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters and others in the context of enforcing COVID-19 measures.”

AI said in the first four months of the lockdown, 116,000 people were arrested for violating COVID-19 regulations.

“Many were subjected to violence, including a significant number of women. Two sisters, Nokuthula and Ntombizodwa Mpofu, were severely beaten by police on 16 April in Bulawayo when they went out during curfew to buy food for their children. A joint team comprised of agents of the police, military, the Central Intelligence Organisation, and the Office of the President, known as the “Ferret Team”, terrorized government critics, opposition leaders and activists, and their family members. Many, including several members of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change-Alliance (MDC-A), were abducted from police custody, tortured and dumped far from their homes.”

In May, Joana Mamombe, a politician, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova were arrested at a police roadblock in the capital, Harare, while they were leading a demonstration against inadequate protection for the poor.

“They were abducted the same day from Harare Central Police Station by a group of men believed to be from the Ferret Team, who physically and sexually assaulted them and dumped them 87km from their homes in Harare three days later. In June, the State charged the women with faking their abductions and “tarnishing the country’s image”.

On 31 July, they were re-arrested at a checkpoint. AI said while they were being held, a soldier whipped Cecilia Chimbiri for allegedly insulting him. In December, in the case relating to the charges connected to their abduction in May, the Harare Regional Magistrate ordered that Joana Mamombe be tried separately from Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova on grounds that she had been declared unfit to stand trial. An application by their lawyers for this order to be reviewed was pending at the end of the year.

“In the days running up to the July 31 protests, security forces raided the homes of those suspected of supporting the initiative, in some cases vandalizing property,” said AI.

On 30 July, Tawanda Muchehiwa was arrested by police in a shop in Bulawayo. “On the way to the police station, the officers handed him over to the Ferret Team, who tortured him to reveal the whereabouts of his uncle, Mduduzi Mathuthu, the editor of online newspaper ZimLive.com. They released him far from his home four days later.

“The same day, security forces raided Mduduzi Mathuthu’s home, and, when they failed to find him, took away his sister and two of his nephews who were later released after the Media Institute of Southern Africa intervened.”

At said several other people, including Noxolo Maphosa, Tamuka Denhere, Bhekani Moyo, Levison Moyo, Paul Munakopa and others were intimidated and or killed by security forces.

AI said Noxolo Maphosa, who was abducted in public, said she was sexually assaulted to force her to reveal the whereabouts of her uncle, Josphat Ngulube, an MDC-A member who had been accused of distributing face masks bearing the slogan “#ZANUPFMustGo” (referring to the ruling party).

KILLINGS

AI said police failed to carry out investigations on people who were allegedly killed by state security agents.

“On 15 March, police went to the home of Bhekani Moyo in Silobela village, in connection with assault allegations, and shot him dead. On 30 March, Levison Moyo was beaten by police in Bulawayo for allegedly violating lockdown restrictions and died four days later from a brain haemorrhage. In May, police, travelling in an unmarked vehicle, shot and killed Paul Munakopa in Hillside, Bulawayo.

“At least two opposition activists were unlawfully killed. In July, Mazwi Ndlovu, from Bulilima, was killed by agents suspected to be affiliated with ZANU-PF after he raised concerns about the way food was distributed to those in need. A man suspected of killing him was later arrested but released without appearing in court or applying for bail. Also in July, state security agents in Hurungwe abducted, murdered and dumped the naked body of Lavender Chiwaya, an MDC-A councillor, near his home.”

Zanu PF spokesperson, Simon Khaya Moyo, was unreachable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.

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