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Blessing Kanotunga was abducted and seriously assaulted by state security agents.

Several countries have expressed concern over human rights violations in Zimbabwe being allegedly perpetrated by the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

In a joint statement, the heads of mission of the European Union, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States of America said the government should respect the Zimbabwe Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, movement and assembly and the right for people to protest peacefully.

“Intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives and opposition politicians-prior to, during and following the demonstrations in Harare on 16 August - are cause for great concern.

“The Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to personal security from violence and prohibits physical or psychological torture. The heads of Missions urge the authorities to respect these fundamental rights and to hold perpetrators of violence legally responsible.”

They urged President Mnangagwa’s government to respect the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, association and expressions as well as to peaceful protest.

Political party leaders and supporters were also urged to abstain from threats and incitement to violence as well as acts of violence or vandalism.

“The security forces must adhere to their constitutional mandate and exercise restraint proportionality while maintaining public order. Only by addressing concretely and rapidly these human rights violations will the Government of Zimbabwe give credibility to its commitments to address long standing governance challenges.

“The heads of Mission reiterate their calls for the implementation of the government’s political and economic reform agenda, underpinned by inclusive national dialogue and increased efforts to address the severe social situation.”

Several people have been abducted, tortured and beaten up by suspected state security agents before and during public protests over the current harsh economic situation.

The government claims that the protesters, spearheaded by the Movement for Democratic Change led by Nelson Chamisa, have a regime change agenda.

In a statement, President Mnangagwa’s government expressed dismay over claims by various nations that it is violating human rights and stifling freedom of assembly, association and expression in the country.

“The government is taken aback by the intrusive and judgmental tone of the statement. The statement fails to acknowledge that the Zimbabwean High Court spoke on the issue, which rendered any action taken contrary to that judgment illegal. We therefore note with concern that the statement appears to support law-breaking in Zimbabwe, a position that appears to promote lawlessness in our peaceful country.

“It is therefore disappointing that government is presented with a statement that ignores the importance of upholding both the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the rule of law …”

Policemen keep an eye on pedestrians passing by, in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Monday, Aug. 19, 2019. Few people turned up for an opposition protest Monday in the Zimbabwe's second city as armed police maintained a heavy presence on the streets. (AP Photo)

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe police deployed in force on Tuesday to block a street protest for the third time in five days, as the main opposition party said hopes were vanishing that the government might become more tolerant of dissent than the regime it replaced.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was elected a year ago on a pro-reform ticket, promising a break with the political repression that characterised Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule and an economic upturn.

But the economy is mired in its worst crisis in a decade, and security forces have used strong-arm tactics to snuff out three attempts by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to hold street demonstrations since Friday.

“There is a determined effort by the regime to ensure that there is no more democratic space,” MDC national spokesman Daniel Molokele said.

“They are also deploying a lot of military and police in the streets... It clearly shows that the new government is even worse than that of Robert Mugabe.”

Tuesday’s heavy security deployment was in the central city of Gweru, where police - who had banned the march on Monday night - patrolled on foot and in lorries and cordoned off a university, a local journalist told Reuters.

The MDC said it would challenge the ban in court on Tuesday. The party failed to overturn two previous bans on marches in the capital Harare on Friday - where police rounded up MDC followers and dispersed them with batons and water cannon and tear gas - and in the second city Bulawayo on Monday.

In the days before the planned Harare demonstration, six political activists were abducted from their homes at night and beaten by armed men, rights groups say.

They also say the government has this year levied subversion charges against at least 24 activists and opposition leaders, the highest number in a single year.

The MDC says the protest bans are unconstitutional, while police said they have had evidence the protests would turn violent and did not have enough manpower to monitor them.

Bulawayo saw massive looting and destruction of property in January as protests against a steep rise in the price of fuel turned violent, triggering an army crackdown that killed more than a dozen people.

Those deaths set a question mark against the 76-year-old president’s pledge to end the Mugabe-era repression - which the bans of recent days have further undermined.

“The move to ban demonstrations predicated on a spurious assertion that the opposition is plotting violent regime change, is not sustainable,” said analyst Piers Pigou, Crisis Group’s senior consultant for southern Africa.

“...This is contrary to the precepts of a “new administration” that President Mnangagwa and his team want to sell to the world.

The president, who served as a Mugabe aide over four decades, is also struggling to make good on promises that austerity-driven reforms will revive the economy, as popular anger mounts over triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, fuel and bread.

The crisis has revived memories of the hyperinflation of a decade ago that forced Zimbabwe to ditch its currency. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by John Stonestreet)

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