This week the Government of Zimbabwe, led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, ordered Econet Wireless Zimbabwe to shut down all internet access for the second time. Mnangagwa took these actions in response to mass protests around Zimbabwe. Citizens around the country are protesting the government doubling the price of gas. Many protesters believe Mnangagwa is restricting internet access to limit evidence of police brutality during the protests.
In response to the situation and criticism President Mnangagwa issued a statement on Twitter, “As I have said numerous times, everyone in Zimbabwe has the right to express themselves freely – to speak out, to criticize and to protest. Unfortunately, what we have witnessed is violence and vandalism instead of peaceful, legal protests. Violence will not reform our economy. Violence will not rebuild our nation.” Mnangagwa goes on to talk about economic prospects with Moscow in an effort to boost the nation’s morale. According to NPR, The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson stated, “We call on the Government to find ways of engaging with the population about their legitimate grievances and to stop the crackdown against protesters.” The OHCHR (The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) also expressed concern over the limited internet access caused by the Zimbabwe Government. According to NPR, Econet stated, “We were served with another directive [from the Zimbabwe Government] for a total shutdown of the internet until further notice.” This indicates the Zimbabwe Government’s tactic for control over the protests. The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe also issued a statement, “We condemn any disproportionate use of force and call on Zimbabwe’s security forces to respond to civil unrest professionally and with respect for human life and constitutional rights.” The U.S. Embassy like the OHCHR spoke out about the Government’s internet shutdown.
I applaud the OHCHR for their condemnation of brutality faced by protesters and support their call for the government to engage Zimbabweans peacefully to dispel national anger. I denounce President Mnangagwa and the Government’s shutdown of internet access in an attempt to control citizens. I support Zimbabweans right for peaceful protest.
President Mnangagwa was sworn in after dictator Robert Mugabe stepped down. According to NPR, “Mnangagwa ushered in an era of historical civic freedoms: Police checkpoints were lifted and for the first time in decades Zimbabweans were allowed to air political views. On election day, last month, many of them said that for the first time, they felt free to walk into a polling place and vote their heart.” Now many are criticizing the President for his repressive actions. As stated in the BBC, President Mnangagwa said “the [gas] price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and“rampant illegal trading.” Zimbabwe is now said to have the most expensive gas price in the world. According to the BBC, many people cannot even afford to take the bus because of the price increase. Around 12 people have been reported to have died during the protests. An NPR reported stated, “a Zimbabwean medical association says its doctors have treated more than 150 people since Monday — some with gunshot wounds, others with dog bites.” One victim who has garnered press was Kelvin Tinashe Choto a 22-year-old football player who was shot and killed by security forces. The UK Independent claims, “Dozens of Zimbabweans have reportedly been shot during the crackdown. Other say they have been hunted down in their homes at night and severely beaten by soldiers and masked men in plain clothes.” In what many believe to be an effort to silence protesters the Zimbabwe Government forced Econet Wireless Zimbabwe, the country’s largest mobile phone operator, to shut down internet access until further notified.
We must protect the right to freedom of speech and peaceful protests and urge President Mnangagwa and the Government of Zimbabwe to seriously engage with his people to settle these protests peacefully.