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ZPP Report: Mnangagwa Govt Criminalizing Human Rights Activism in Zimbabwe

FILE: Soldiers patrol the streets as protestors gather during a demonstration over the hike in fuel prices in Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.
FILE: Soldiers patrol the streets as protestors gather during a demonstration over the hike in fuel prices in Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019.

A non-governmental organization in Zimbabwe claims that President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government is cracking down on civil society leaders in the same manner former President Robert Mugabe used to torment his opponents.

In its May monthly report, the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) said, “The Government of Zimbabwe has reverted to its systematic and coordinated Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and human rights activists attack modus operandi; a path they always take when under pressure.”

The organization cited the arrest of several human rights activists by the government as an example of allegedly brutalizing local people amid reports of looming street protests over the current harsh economic situation in the country.

The civil society leaders were arrested two weeks ago when they landed at the Robert Mugabe International Airport after attending a workshop in the Maldives hosted by the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies.

They include George Makoni, an Advocacy Officer for Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe; Tatenda Mombeyarara (Co-ordinator for lobby group Citizens Manifesto); Gamuchirai Mukura (executive director of the Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development); Nyasha Mpahlo; Farirai Gumbonzvanda of the Rozaria Memorial Trust, Sitabile Dewah (Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence and Director of the Female Prisoners Support Trust) and Dr. Rita Nyamupinga.

ZPP said, “Government recently on different occasions accused CSOs of regime change endeavours through coordinated demonstrations throughout the country despite Section 59 of the Zimbabwean Constitution clearly providing for the right to demonstrate and petition. It is now apparent that these intimations were orchestrated to herald and justify the persecution of CSOs.

“The activists’ arrest is a clear sign of criminalisation of human rights activism, which flies in the face of democratic society ideals. Government’s targeting of activists who attended a workshop whose scope is ‘non-violence’, is nothing short of chasing mirages and stifling clearly provided-for rights.”

The organization said the continued deferment of bail rulings and detention of the activists at Chikurubi Female and Maximum security prison “deprives the activists of their freedom and is a form of continued violation and victimisation. We implore the justice system to speedily follow due process so that these Human Rights Defenders are treated fairly.”

ZPP accused state-leaning media entities of supporting what it called a “concerted smear campaign” by the ruling Zanu PF government.

“This clearly exposes that the Mnangagwa administration will not stand down in allowing Zimbabweans’ enjoyment of their rights and freedoms. Other organisations mentioned in the malicious (press) article include, the Counselling Services Unit, the Research and Advocacy Unit, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the umbrella body the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum to which all the organisations listed are members.”

State officials were not reachable for comment.

Zimbabweans went on the rampage early this year following fuel increases of up to 150 percent, which were announced by President Mnangagwa. At least 12 people were shot dead by state security agents and others were injured in running battles with the police and national army.