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USA, Amnesty International Urge Zimbabwe to Stop Arresting Civil Society Leaders

Civil society leaders facing renewed state repression in Zimbabwe.
Civil society leaders facing renewed state repression in Zimbabwe.

The United States says Zimbabwe should stop harassing civil society leaders amid calls for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to free all citizens arrested in the past few days following reports of planned streets protests over the deteriorating economic situation in the southern African nation.

In a tweet Wednesday, the U.S Embassy in Harare said, “Harassment and targeted arrests of civil society leaders damages Zimbabwe’s reputation and economic future. We call on the Zimbabwean government to uphold its constitution, respect rule of law, and foster an environment where all can contribute to the nation’s progress.

Civil society leaders appearing in court ...
Civil society leaders appearing in court ...

“All citizens and their civic leaders, political parties, or civil society organizations have the constitutional right to peaceful assembly and association. All have important roles to play in contributing to Zimbabwe’s future and must be given the space and freedom to do so.”

Police arrested Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) lawmaker Joanna Mamombe on Wednesday and charged her with violating some sections of the Electoral Act.

According to party spokesperson, Jacoba Mafume, Mamombe allegedly provided a false address to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission before the 2018 general elections.

Mamombe, who was granted bail, is currently facing treason charges emanating from violent protests over fuel price increases announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa in January this year. Prosecutors claim that she was planning to overthrow the government.

Her arrest follows the recent crackdown on civic society leaders who were picked up by state security agents at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport for planning to overthrow Mnangagwa’s government.

At the same time, Amnesty International has condemned the arrest on Monday of civic society leaders Stabile Dewah and Rita Nyamupinga and five others currently charged with attempting to overthrow the Zimbabwean government.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

In a statement, Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, said, “The first five human rights defenders arrested are facing trumped up charges for exercising their human rights. They should be released immediately and unconditionally. The charges against them fit into a much wider pattern of repression we have documented in Zimbabwe.”

George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura, Nyasha Mpahlo and Farirai Gumbonzvanda have been accused of “plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government”.

The two activists arrested Wednesday are also likely to be charged with subverting a constitutional government.

“Since January’s protests we have witnessed a mounting crackdown on human rights defenders and activists. Lawyers, journalists and even medical doctors have not been spared. Zimbabwe’s authorities have declared anyone who exercises their right to freedom expression and association an enemy of the state. This witch-hunt must stop,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.

The activists, who were arrested at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, have been accused of attending a workshop organised by a Serbian non-governmental organization in the Maldives called the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). They were formally charged with plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government on May 21 and remanded in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.

Police confiscated their laptops and mobile phones, which were reportedly handed over to the Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe “for extraction of evidence”. The evidence, including some notes recorded during the meeting, will be produced in court as evidence against the activists.

“Zimbabwean authorities must stop using trumped-up charges to intimidate and harass human rights defenders and civil society leaders. The rights to freedom of expression and association are not just ‘nice to have’ constitutional requirements; they are legal human rights that all Zimbabweans must live and enjoy every day,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.