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Zimbabwean Sues Government to End Lockdown Over Alleged Abuse

Riot police wear face masks on the streets of Harare, Zimbabwe, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. Zimbabwe went into a lockdown for 21 days in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most…

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is petitioning the High Court to have the coronavirus lockdown overturned after police allegedly unleashed a dog on a woman for violating a curfew.

Court papers submitted by the lawyers group say police and army officers assaulted Lucia Masvondo, 26, while she was cooking food in her yard.

The lawsuit argues the lockdown regulations violate Zimbabwe’s constitution and should be annulled.

Kumbirai Mafunda of the lawyers group said Masvondo’s case was one of a growing number of alleged abuses by security forces during the lockdown.

“She suffered some wounds after some state agencies set a dog upon her when she was preparing a meal outside her home in Karoi," Mafunda said. "In Bulawayo, our lawyers are intervening in a case where someone was reportedly assaulted by the police and died.”

Zimbabwe police refused any immediate comment on the Masvondo case but acknowledged they were investigating it.

Scores of cases

Zimbabwe rights groups said they have recorded more than 100 cases of security forces abusing civilians — including detentions of journalists — since the lockdown began two weeks ago.

Zimbabwe authorities said the tough lockdown measures, which require people to stay in their homes and permit travel only to buy food or other essentials, are necessary to prevent more coronavirus victims.

Zimbabwe has recorded 11 cases of COVID-19 and three deaths so far.

In an Easter message broadcast Thursday on Zimbabwe state television, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the lockdown would not ease during the holiday weekend.

“I am aware that in the past, the Easter holiday season would see most families, friends, as well as worshippers, gather together," he said. "Sadly, this will not be possible this holiday as we continue to observe the essential lockdown to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mnangagwa said security forces would intensify patrols to curb the movement of pedestrians and vehicles. He urged the public to be patient and responsible, saying the answer to the crisis lay in their discipline and unity.

No safety nets

But critics have said the government has failed to create social safety nets for many Zimbabweans who depend on street vending to make a living.

The southern African country’s economy and health care system are in tatters after years of mismanagement and poor investment. The World Food Program says more than half of Zimbabwe’s population needs food aid. That will tempt many out of their homes, despite the risk of contracting the coronavirus or running afoul of security forces.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights hopes to end the restrictions through Masvondo’s lawsuit. The group expects to know the hearing date for the case early next week.

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