The wife of a missing pro-democracy campaigner and freelance journalist, has submitted a letter to President Emmerson Mnangagwa protesting that her husband, who was abducted five years ago, "cannot go unaccounted for just like that” and appealed for help to get answers to ascertain Itai Dzamara’s disappearance.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights helped Sheffra Dzamara to submit the letter, which is calling for an immediate response from the Zimbabwean president.
“… I believe someone in your government knows what happened to him. If the abductors killed him, give me his body so that I can grieve, bury and get closure. I can also take my kids to his grave and say here lies your father. With tears, I appeal to you as the president to help me. I sincerely hope that you will help us for the sake of his two young children. I will not rest until I get answers as to Itai’s whereabouts.”
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba was unavailable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.
Human rights group, Amnesty International, said the Zimbabwean government has to account for Dzamara.
In a statement, Amnesty International said Dzamara’s “whereabouts remains a mystery and his family are stuck in agonizing limbo.”
Itai Dzamara is a well-known activist and had been a vocal critic of the late former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe before he was abducted from a barbershop on 9 March, 2015. He has not been heard from since.
“Imagine not being able to tell your children if their father is alive or dead. Someone knows where Itai Dzamara is, but they have chosen to subject his family to five long years of uncertainty,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“Today we join Itai’s family in calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to conduct a thorough, independent, effective and transparent investigation into his disappearance. People do not simply vanish into thin air. We need to see an inquiry with findings that are made public, and suspected perpetrators brought to justice, as well as an end to the harassment and intimidation of activists and critics in Zimbabwe.”
Before he disappeared, Itai Dzamara had been repeatedly harassed and beaten up by Zimbabwe’s security forces.
Amnesty International believes “he has been forcibly disappeared as a result of his activism and outspoken criticism of the government.”
Itai Dzamara was abducted on 9 March 2015 by five men while he was at a barbers’ shop in Harare’s Glen View suburb. His abductors are said to have accused him of stealing cattle before handcuffing him, forcing him into a white truck with concealed number plates and driving off. He has not been seen since then, and there are fears for his safety.
Itai Dzamara was a well-known activist who had campaigned to improve accountability in Zimbabwe. He had called for former President Robert Mugabe to step down and criticized his handling of Zimbabwe’s economy. Mugabe in power for almost four decades, until he was removed from office in a defacto military coup.
Amnesty International urged the government to set up an independent judge-led Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances around the abduction of Itai Dzamara, with powers to subpoena witnesses.
The findings of any inquiry must be made public and those suspected to be responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials. “Members of the public with information to contribute to the Commission through submissions must also be allowed to do so.”
Amnesty International noted that “under President Mnangagwa Zimbabwe remains a dangerous place to criticize the government. Security forces routinely use repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act to prevent people from carrying out peaceful protests and voicing their criticism.
“Government critics have increasingly faced harassment and intimidation under president Mnangagwa’s administration, including being charged with trumped-up treason charges, for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
President Mnangagwa was Vice president when he told the United Nations Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in 2016 that the government was actively pursuing the search for Itai. However, the government has failed to give regular updates on the search efforts for the activist, despite a court order issued in 2016 instructing it to do so.