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FILE: A family member of Kelvin Tinashe Choto reacts, during his funeral in Chitungwiza, about 30 kilometres south east of the capital, Harare, Zimbabwe, Saturday, Jan, 19, 2019. He was gunned down by the army.

Amnesty International says Emmerson Mnangagwa, in his first year as president of Zimbabwe, has presided over a systematic and brutal crackdown on human rights, including the violent suppression of protests and a witch-hunt against anyone who dared challenge his government.

In a statement issued Monday, Amnesty International said the socio-economic conditions of many Zimbabweans have also declined over the past 12 months following the president’s inauguration after controversial elections that were challenged by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which claimed that its leader Nelson Chamisa won by a large margin.

The weak economy has seen fuel prices skyrocket and high inflation push the prices of basic commodities such as bread through the roof as well as eroding people’s salaries.

“What we have witnessed in Zimbabwe since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power is a ruthless attack on human rights, with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association increasingly restricted and criminalized,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

“The authorities have shown blatant contempt for basic freedoms and they have demonstrated that there is no space for dissent in the so-called ‘new dispensation’. Time and again they have resorted to the same brutal tactics that were used by President Mnangagwa’s predecessor Robert Mugabe to clampdown on human rights.”

CRACKDOWN ON PROTESTS

Amnesty International said just last week, baton-wielding police mounted a vicious assault on peaceful protesters who gathered in Harare in anticipation of the 16 August national protests against deteriorating socio-economic conditions in the country.

Scores of people were left injured following the crackdown. On Thursday, August 15, before the march, Zimbabwean police announced they were banning the protests, through a press statement, saying the demonstrations would turn violent.

After the aborted protest, about 128 activists were arrested and placed on remand. Other protests that were planned to take place in four other cities around the country were also banned and some activists arrested.

At the start of the year, Amnesty International documented at least 15 killings by police when nationwide protests erupted in January this year, sparked by the announcement of fuel price hikes.

“The state carried out mass arrests which saw hundreds of people being arrested on charges including public violence. By the end of April, close to 400 people were convicted by the courts, with most of them through hastily conducted trials.”

During the protests, said Amnesty International, the police used lethal and excessive force such as tear gas, batons, water cannons and live ammunition.

“They also launched a house-to-house hunt to track down and silence the organizers of the protest and other prominent civil society leaders and activists. Some of those arrested - including Evan Mawarire, a well-known local cleric and activist, and trade union leader Peter Mutasa - still face trumped-up treason charges in connection with the protests. The state has charged an unprecedented number of 22 people with subverting a constitutional government in relation to the protests.”

Amnesty International said pursuit of those perceived to be linked to protest movements continued throughout the year.

In May, seven human rights defenders were arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport as they returned from a capacity-building workshop on non-violent protest tactics in the Maldives. The activists, Stabile Dewah, George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura, Nyasha Mpahlo, Farirai Gumbonzvanda and Rita Nyamupinga were accused of “plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government”. They are yet to face trial.

Amnesty International said abductions and torture of human rights activists to silence them from freely expressing themselves continue.

On 21 August, comedian Samantha Kureya was abducted by masked men from her house and tortured after publishing a skit on police brutality.

“In his first year in office, President Mnangagwa’s government has demonstrated little observance of human rights and adherence to the rule of law, continuing the trend that we saw under Robert Mugabe,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.

“As he enters his second year in office, the president has the opportunity to start on a fresh slate by immediately taking steps to ensure that his government ends the escalating attacks on human rights and impunity for human rights violations. We urge him to build a Zimbabwe that has a culture of respect for the human rights of everyone.”

President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn into office on 26 August 2018 following the country’s harmonized elections in July last year that saw his ZANU-PF party claiming victory. The vote combined presidential, parliamentary and local government elections.

Simon Kaya Moyo, national spokesperson for the ruling ZANU-PF, said the government has covered a lot of ground in terms of meeting the development aspirations of Zimbabweans.

He accused the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) of being against the development of the country by insisting they do not recognize the election of President Mnangagwa.

Moyo also blamed what he called continued “illegal” western sanctions, which, he said are affecting the country’s development.

At the same time, the MDC led by Chamisa said Monday the party and citizens are perturbed by the deafening silence of independent commissions as abductions, persecutions and rampant human rights violations continue to escalate against defenceless civilians.

In a statement, the party said, “Since the MDC, on behalf of the people, gave notice to demonstrate on 16 August 2019, against the hardships experienced by the people of Zimbabwe, the country has been engulfed by increasing abductions, torture, and persecutions of opposition and civil society. The people’s crime is raising voices of concern against induced life threatening hardships.

“Sequel to the MDC notice to demonstrate, the (Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission) ZHRC, and the NPRC (National Peace and Reconciliation Commission) issued statements acknowledging and ascertaining the democratic rights of the people to ‘peacefully demonstrate against the hardships’. Both institutions strongly urged the demonstrators, as well as the state representatives who were making violence fermenting statements against the peaceful demonstrations to desist from violating the process.”

The party said, “True to its values, the MDC, and the people, have remained peaceful even in the wake of state’s systematic violence of denying people of their right to demonstrate. To this day, the nation continues to witness daily increases in the number of wanton abductions, torture and persecutions. Yet the independent commissions for Human Rights and for Peace have gone mum-and-dumb!

“We are surprised and worried by the conspicuous silence by the country’s independent institutions for peace against these continued gross human rights violations. The constitutional mandates of these commissions are clearly spelt under chapter 12 of the supreme law of the land, including the protection and defending of citizens against violation of their rights and protecting the sovereignty and interests of the people while promoting constitutionalism.”

The MDC further said statements by the ZHRC chairperson that they could not comment on the on-going abductions because they are still carrying out investigations are a cause for concern. “One of the key roles of these commissions is to promote, protect, enforce and prevent. As such you don’t promote, protect, enforce and prevent retrogressively. Watching and witnessing the abductions, and then issuing condemning statements are not helpful.

“We are not saying that the interventions by independent peace commissions are the total sum for the panacea to stop the obviously and habitual sponsored human rights violations, but the efforts for timely constitutional mandated interventions are critical for both current deterrence, and posterity reference.”

FILE - The shadow of a pedestrian is cast over a banner for a HIV testing center in Gaborone, Botswana.

Mary Banda – not her real name - is a 35-year-old HIV positive sex worker from neighboring Zambia who cannot afford life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs.

Like many sex workers living with HIV in Botswana, she also cannot afford to travel back home to receive free treatment.

That is why Banda welcomes legislation before the Botswana cabinet that, if passed, would provide free ARVs to HIV positive foreigners.

"If they do that it will be a good idea because some of us are dying here," she said. "Maybe someone will be getting (the) tablets back home, and when they get finished, they don’t have money to go back and take the tablets."

Banda says a number of sex workers she knew in Botswana have died from AIDS-related illnesses due to lack of treatment.

Immigrants and sex workers in Botswana afflicted with the HIV virus that causes AIDS could get a lifeline as the southern African country is due to decide on offering free Anti-Retroviral (ARV) treatment to foreigners. An estimated 30,000 migrants have HIV in Botswana, which has the third highest HIV prevalence in the world. Experts say refusing to offer free ARV treatment is making it harder for Botswana to eradicate the virus.

Tosh Beka, who is head of the sex worker rights group Sisonke, says Botswana has about 1,500 foreign sex workers in need of ARV treatment.

“If they are infected and are not getting any help and we are saying we want zero infections, then it means we are doing nothing," he said.

Botswana’s has an estimated 30,000 HIV positive foreigners but only 7,000 are getting treatment, according to the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

PEPFAR coordinator Dan Craun-Selka says the agency supports offering free ARVs for all and has pledged to provide funding to Botswana.

"Once the government changes this policy, it will help bring about epidemic controls in this country," he said. "That is something that really needs to take place. We have discussed this with ministries and it’s now with the cabinet for their decision."

Botswana became the first country in southern Africa to provide free ARV treatment to HIV positive citizens.

The measure has been partially credited with reducing Botswana’s high rate of HIV infection from 25 percent of the population down to 21 percent.

But Botswana still has the third highest HIV prevalence in the world, after Lesotho and eSwatini.

National AIDS Coordinating Agency director Richard Matlhare says free treatment for HIV positive foreigners would further reduce the virus’s spread.

"We must look at the overall bigger picture of ending AIDS and not leaving anyone behind," he said. "On the other hand, we must look at the prevailing policies on the ground, and the cabinet must make a determination.”

Botswana’s cabinet is expected to make a decision before the country holds general elections in October.

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