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Rights Groups Condemn Torture of Protesters in Zimbabwe

It was back to normal in Harare, Zimbabwe, for most informal traders despite a lockdown called by the government last month to contain the spread of the coronavirus, May 15, 2020. (Columbus Mavhunga/VOA)

Rights groups in Zimbabwe have accused government security forces of abducting and torturing three female supporters of the opposition who were taking part in a protest.

The three women were allegedly abducted Wednesday after taking part in a protest demanding that the government pay those affected by the coronavirus lockdown.

Thabitha Khumalo, a spokeswoman for the Movement for Democratic Change, said the women had been "brutalized and traumatized ... for standing up for the Zimbabwean people who are suffering. We are literally slaves in our own country. This automatically means that the ZANU-PF government has no respect for the Zimbabwean people.

"We are totally, totally disgusted on these abductions and we want justice. Those that carried [out] those abductions must be brought to book, like, yesterday.”

Initially, police confirmed arresting the three opposition members on charges of breaking lockdown regulations. But they later denied that, after Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights asked for the women’s location so the rights group could legally represent them.

Police statement

In a statement issued Friday, Zimbabwe police spokesman Paul Nyathi said the three had been located about 80 kilometers north of Harare and were receiving treatment in the capital. He said he would say more once an investigation of the incident was complete.

Robert Shivambu, Amnesty International spokesman in southern Africa, said authorities must hold the perpetrators to account.

“Zimbabwe authorities must launch a full and thorough investigation into the abduction and subsequent torture of female leaders from the opposition," he said. "The three were found badly tortured after they were arrested at a roadblock in Harare on 13 May. Those suspected of criminal responsibility must be brought to justice."

Abductions and disappearances of activists are common in Zimbabwe. They were especially common during the administration of longtime President Robert Mugabe, but they have continued under Mugabe’s successor and former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.