Zimbabwean authorities have thwarted a peaceful anti-corruption protest which was planned for today and launched a witch-hunt against political and human rights activists suspected of being behind the planned demonstration, according to Amnesty International.
In a statement, Amnesty International said a number of activists have gone into hiding after police published a list of names of human rights defenders who are wanted for questioning in connection with the planned protests. A number of opposition leaders are also understood to be wanted by the police, while six others have already been arrested.
“The brutal assault on political activists and human rights defenders who have had the courage to call out alleged corruption and demand accountability from their government is intensifying. The persecution of these activists is a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system and mockery of justice,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
“This latest witch-hunt and repression of peaceful dissent is a continuation of what we have seen in the country in recent years, including the abductions and arbitrary arrests of those who are critical of the government, in an attempt to muzzle differing views. The thwarting of the protest illustrates the Zimbabwean authorities’ total intolerance of criticism.”
Six activists were arrested or abducted in the past few days, to prevent the protests from taking place Friday.
Opposition MDC-Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere and Henry Chivanga, an activist fighting for rights of people with disabilities, are among those who were arrested.
Police also arrested the sister of ZimLive editor, Mduduzi Mathuthu, on 30 July, and refused to release her until the journalist appeared at Bulawayo Central police station. Mathuthu is facing charges of planning the protests. His sister was released on the same day.
Amnesty International said in the lead up to the Friday protests, authorities have been beefing up security in main cities, including sealing off the Harare Central Business District, under the pretext of enforcing COVID-19 regulations.
“Zimbabwean authorities must stop using COVID-19 as a pretext for restricting human rights. Peaceful protest is not a crime, and the motivations for crushing this demonstration are plain to see.
“Zimbabweans must be allowed to freely exercise their human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The authorities must stop harassing, intimidating and arresting people who have done nothing more than peacefully express their opinions.”
The government launched a crackdown last week ahead of protests with the arrest of prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume.
While Chin’ono was arrested for “inciting public violence”, Amnesty International says “it appears that he was targeted for exposing allegations of corruption in the procurement of Personal Protective Equipment related to COVID-19.”
President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired Health Minister Obadiah Moyo over a $60 million shady deal involving Drax International, which was hired without following state tender procedures to purchase COVID-19 test kits and other materials.
Mnangagwa recently said the protesters were terrorists aimed at overthrowing a constitutionally-elected government.