Abduction, torture and killing of Tapfumaneyi Mashaya and repression of civil society in Zimbabwe

John Wessels / AFP

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) condemn the abduction, torture and killing of Zimbabwean political activist Tapfumaneyi Masaya on November 12, 2023, and express their deep concern at the increasing repression of dissenting voices in the country.

Paris-Geneva, November 30, 2023. On November 12, 2023, in Mashonaland East, on the outskirts of Harare, the dead body of Tapfumaneyi Masaya was found at the intersection of Arcturus Road and lobho Road, in Cleveland area. Tapfumaneyi Masaya, a 51-year-old pastor and a political activist, part of the political campaign team and an aspiring legislator of the opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) ahead of the December 9, 2023, parliamentary by-elections.

Tapfumaneyi Masaya was abducted together with Jeffrey Kalosi, fellow activist and church leader, on November 11, 2023, by unidentified men who took them into a vehicle, part of a three-vehicle convoy, while they were campaigning for the CCC ahead of the parliamentary by-elections. Jeffrey Kalosi was released the same day. According to the information received, Tapfumaneyi Masaya and Jeffrey Kalosi were both subjected to acts of torture. The authorities of Zimbabwe have indicated that the killing of Tapfumaneyi Masaya was under investigation, which has been reiterated by the national police spokesperson on December 4, who confirmed that the investigation was still ongoing.

This abduction and killing took place against a backdrop of ongoing repression of dissenting voices in Zimbabwe, where cases of arbitrary arrest, abduction, torture and killing of political opponents and civil society activists by alleged state actors are on the rise in the aftermath of August 2023 presidential election.

Ahead of the presidential election, CCC meetings have been systematically disrupted and CCC members were regularly arrested on trumped-up charges. For instance, on January 14, 2023, the Zimbabwe police arrested 25 members of the CCC, including two members of the Parliament, who were attending a private meeting in Budiriro, Harare. They were all charged under Section 37 of the Criminal Code with participating in a gathering with intent to promote public violence, while this provision does not apply to private meetings. Since then, the authorities have continued to arbitrarily use the Criminal Code against opposition members to prevent them from conducting their activities, obstructing the process of holding open and fair elections. Moreover, Zimbabwean civil society has faced severe restrictions to the right to freedom of association with the adoption of the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill H.B. 10, 2021 (PVO Bill) by the Parliament in February 2023.

FIDH and OMCT as part of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders had already expressed their deep concern over the dire impact of this amendment on civic space and the ability of independent civil society to play its crucial role in guaranteeing participatory and transparent elections. FIDH and OMCT recall that the process had been marred with human rights violations, with public hearings on the amendment being systematically disrupted by ruling party militants who violently assaulted human rights defenders raising concerns about the content of the new law.

These restrictions to civic space combined with organised violence and torture of political and civil society activists are not new in Zimbabwe and are part of a broad intimidation strategy of the state authorities to muzzle independent voices, which tends to intensify in electoral contexts.

Ahead of the by-elections to be held on December 9, 2023, FIDH and OMCT therefore call on the government of Zimbabwe to:
 guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all political opponents and human rights defenders in Zimbabwe;
 protect, respect and promote the right to freedom of association, a right protected by the Zimbabwean Constitution, particularly Article 58, as well as by international human rights instruments to which Zimbabwe is a party, especially Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;
 carry out prompt, effective, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the torture, abduction and killing of Tapfumaneyi Masaya and the abduction and torture of Jeffrey Kalosi, and to bring the perpetrators to justice;
 accede to the United Nations Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol, and guarantee that all complaints of torture or ill-treatment are investigated promptly, impartially and independently.

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