Zimbabwe has strongly objected to the European Union’s calls for President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to shed light on the fate of pro-democracy activist and journalist, Itai Dzamara, who was abducted by suspected state security agents five years ago.
In a tweet, the European Union in Zimbabwe said, “Five years after his abduction, Itai #Dzamara remains missing. We call on Govt to shed light on his fate & serve justice, and to tackle all human rights violations decisively, in line with #Zimbabwe’s repeated commitment to human rights, freedoms & national healing.”
In a swift response posted on its twitter handle, Zimbabwe’s Information Ministry criticized the E.U, saying its tweet implied that the government had a hand in the abduction of Dzamara, the leader of Occupy Africa Unity Square, who wanted the late former president Robert Mugabe to resign for failing to properly run the country.
“Government feels strongly that no Zimbabwean should disappear without a trace and sympathizes with the Dzamara family in their quest for their loved one’s safe return. To this government, every Zimbabwean counts. It is therefore diplomatically unhelpful and misleading to insinuate that government does not intend to shed light into Mr. Dzamara's disappearance, as if it had a hand in it.
“Government remains open to engagements with all diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe and provide clarity on any matter of mutual interest using agreed formal channels.”
The ministry noted that since Dzamara’s disappearance on March 9, 2015, a taskforce of “skilled detectives was put in place to investigate the matter.”
The ministry said a reward of US$10,000 from the Zimbabwe Republic Police is on offer on information on Dzamara’s whereabouts.
“The police have regularly issued public appeals for information including in recent times. They have also submitted nine reports to the High Court of Zimbabwe in compliance with the order of that court. These reports are publicly available.”
Dzamara’s wife, Sheffra, has expressed dismay over the manner in which the government is handling the issue.
She told VOA Zimbabwe Service that “there is nothing being done by the government to find my husband.
“It appears as if someone can just be abducted like that with the government not doing anything to find the person. It’s very sad. My children are always asking me about their father and I’m at the same time asking the government to provide answers to what happened to my husband.”
She sent a letter to President Mnangagwa on Tuesday appealing for his help to find her husband, who was abducted by people in an unregistered vehicle while he was at a barbershop in Glenview, Harare.
Nick Mangwana, permanent information secretary, was unavailable for comment as he was not responding to calls on his mobile phone.
Amnesty International has also urged Zimbabwe’s government to find the pro-democracy activist.
Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, said, “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.”
“… 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.”
Amnesty International says the government should 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.”
It 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 Dzamara.
Amnesty International says 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.”