ZIMBABWE : A call to end crackdown on peaceful protests and release those arbitrarily detained

Press release
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As the continuation of national stay away protests is being discussed, FIDH and ZimRights, condemn in the strongest terms the increasing crackdown and human rights violations perpetrated by Zimbabwean security forces against demonstrators, who have been legitimately expressing their discontent over excessive fuel price hikes, the last straw in a dire socio-economic crisis. Zimbabwean authorities must immediately halt their increasing authoritarian practices in responding to citizens’ grievances on the worsening state of the economy and refrain from further excessive use of force against peaceful protesters. Thorough investigations must be carried out on human rights violations perpetrated to hold those responsible to account and bring justice to their victims.

Since 14 January 2019, when the national stay away protests started at the call of trade unions and civic groups, Zimbabweans have been subject to a brutal response from Zimbabwean Police and Army forces which used live ammunition and tear gas against unarmed protesters. ZimRights and civil society organisations have documented the escalation of this repression: at least 12 people have been killed, 78 injured from gunshots, more than 240 suffered from assault, torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and more than 700 were arbitrarily arrested or detained. In addition, dozens of private properties were vandalized and looted, while Zimbabweans have seen their right to access to information and media freedoms severely curtailed, including the blocking of access to Internet and social media across the country between 15 and 21 January.

"Ahead of 30 July 2018 General elections, we advocated for a real democratic transition to be initiated, particularly by reversing the system of poor governance, corruption and serious abuses that marked the Mugabe’s era. It is very disturbing to see that malpractices and disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters are still taking place. Zimbabwean authorities must immediately put an end to the repression, release those arbitrarily detained, and carry thorough investigation on human rights violations committed since the beginning of the protests "

Arnold Tsunga, FIDH Vice-President.

Our organisations are further concerned by the deteriorating living conditions of the Zimbabwean people, as the socio-economic situation of the country worsens. Over the last 14 months, the currency crisis has intensified and the inflation rate stands at 42 % as of 18 January 20191; businesses have been closing; fuel shortages have become a frequent occurrence. An increasing number of people are struggling to afford basic commodities or ensure food security for their households. On 12 January 2019 during a press conference, President Mnangagwa announced a hike in fuel prices which was said to be due to increased fuel usage and rampant illegal foreign trading. This took effect on 13 January as prices for diesel and petrol increased by 150 %. Zimbabwe now has the most expensive fuel in the world, according to analysts2. This unbearable situation has serious consequences for the living standards of and access to basic rights of an already very impoverished population.

Ever since Emmerson Mnangagwa took the lead of the remainder of Robert Mugabe’s term, and even more after highly-disputed 30 July 2018 General elections, political change has not yet materialised for Zimbabwean people. Under Mnangagwa’s government, human rights defenders have continued to suffer attacks: hate speech, smear campaigns, acts of intimidation and harassment, and acts of torture have been regularly reported, predominantly during the current protests. Civic space and fundamental freedoms remain restricted. During the current protests, the security forces have been intimidating human rights defenders on a large scale through acts of surveillance in relation with their supposed participation in the protest movement. For instance, Okay Machisa, National Director of ZimRights and several other members of ZimRights have been subject to acts of intimidation and of harassment. Additionally, Pastor Evan Mawarire has been detained since 16 January 2019 and faces charges of “subverting a constitutional government”. These practices have generated a climate of fear among civil society, leading several human rights defenders to go into hiding.

"The criminalization of human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations by the government of Zimbabwe is unacceptable. This needs to stop if Zimbabwe is to embark on a genuine democratic transition that upholds the rule of law and protects human rights "

Okay Machisa, ZimRights National Director.

In order to find lasting solutions to the current crisis, our organisations urge Zimbabwean authorities to set up a consultation framework for a peaceful, democratic and participatory national debate. Such a multi-stakeholder national dialogue should include, among others, national authorities, civil society organisations and human rights defenders, economic, social and religious leaders, labor representatives, students, academics and political parties to address the national crisis. Our organisations urge the international community, notably the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to actively assist Zimbabwe to find a sustainable solution to the current crisis.

Press Contact:

Okay Machisa, National Director of ZimRights (in Harare) : +263 772 135 882
Arnold Tsunga, Vice-President of FIDH currently (in Harare) : +263 777 283 249

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