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USA Says Serious Human Rights Abuses Rife in Zimbabwe

FILE: Zimbabwean riot police block a road ahead of a planned protest in Harare, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)
FILE: Zimbabwean riot police block a road ahead of a planned protest in Harare, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The United States says there have been serious human rights violations in Zimbabwe following the 2018 disputed general election won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s Zanu PF party.

In a document released Thursday titled ‘2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Zimbabwe’, the U.S. claimed that the Zimbabwean army gunned down 17 people during the January 2019 protests over fuel price increases while other state security agents used various methods of silencing political dissent.

The government says about six people died during the protests.

The U.S report, citing several sources, reads in part, “Human rights groups reported government agents continued to perpetrate physical and psychological torture. Reported torture methods included beating victims with sticks, clubs, cables, gun butts, sjamboks (a heavy whip), falanga (beating the soles of the feet), as well as pouring corrosive substances on exposed skin.

“As of September 23, there were more than 50 reports of short-term abductions and assaults allegedly performed by state security actors. These instances typically occurred at night. The abductors removed persons from their homes by force and assaulted them for hours before abandoning them, usually severely injured and naked, in a remote area.

“Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reported 16 rapes, one sexual assault, 26 abductions, and a minimum of 586 assault and torture cases involving security forces from January 14 to February 5.

According to the report, in January, February, August, and November, last year, uniformed and plainclothes soldiers and police officers systematically assaulted civilians in the Harare central business district and suburbs.

“Soldiers accused many of the victims of participating in the January 14-16 and August 16-21 (2018) demonstrations. In November police officers assaulted civilians who gathered at an opposition party’s headquarters to hear a speech. Another NGO reported 124 victims of organized violence and torture sought medical treatment and counseling after sustaining injuries in multiple incidents across the country in August. The abuses included 11 abductions and assaults, 34 assaults, 77 arrests, one tear gas victim, and one undetermined. Of the 47 cases requiring medical attention, the NGO classified the cases as 13 severe, 26 moderate, and eight mild.”

The United States said there were also reports of short-term abductions and abuses during this same period.

It further cited other incidents of alleged state-sponsored violence, which included the abduction of Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association president Peter Magombeyi and Obert Masaraure, leader of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe. The two were demanding salary increases and better working conditions.

(ARTUZ) leader Obert Masaraure abandoning him in a remote field on September 19.Magombeyi was the face of a nationwide doctors’ strike. The abduction occurred after the ZHDA, through Magombeyi, rejected the government’s offer to increase doctors’ salaries by $20 per month. Victims in several Harare suburbs reported assaults and hours-long interrogations in remote locations regarding opposition members’ whereabouts and plans for demonstrations. For example, plainclothes state security agents abducted Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) leader Obert Masaraure in January and again in June. Masaraure claimed the agents ordered him to strip off his clothes and shoes, and then they beat him with whips while they forced him to roll around in mud and interrogated him about union activities, such as encouraging persons to participate in the January 14-16 demonstrations. The attackers abandoned him in a remote area on a winter night, with substantial injuries and no clothing.

“On August 13, Tatenda Mombeyarara, a civil socety activist, reported being abducted by individuals claiming to be police officers. The men interrogated him for hours about a civic engagement training he attended. He claimed the men undressed him and beat him with wooden rods on his buttocks, legs, and soles of his feet. They poured an unknown corrosive substance on him and left him with a broken tibia and finger in an abandoned quarry.”

The United States claimed that detainees were abused by state security agents.

“Authorities often did not allow detainees prompt or regular access to their lawyers and often informed lawyers who attempted to visit their clients that detainees or those with authority to grant access were unavailable. The government also monitored, harassed, intimidated, and arrested human rights lawyers when they attempted to gain access to their clients.”

It noted that arbitrary arrests were the order of the day in Zimbabwe.

“The government regularly used arbitrary arrest and detention as tools of intimidation and harassment, especially against political activists, civil society members, journalists, and ordinary citizens asserting their rights. There were NGO and media reports that security forces arbitrarily arrested political and civil society activists, including at least 1,000 persons from January 14 to February 5 and another 150 from August 16 to August 21 for their alleged involvement in planned demonstrations in Harare, Bulawayo, Mutare, and other cities.

“In May the government arrested seven civil society activists upon their return to the country from civic engagement training in the Maldives. The government alleged the seven planned to subvert a constitutionally elected government. As of year’s end, the seven activists were still awaiting trial. They and their family members continued to receive threats and intimidation from unknown sources, and security services subjected them to onerous reporting requirements.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Sibusiso Moyo and Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa were not available for comment.