Last Friday, July 31st, hundreds of police and soldiers were deployed in Zimbabwe to crackdown on political opposition and prevent planned anti-corruption protests, at least 11 people were arrested for participating in smaller protests. In the lead up to these protests, six activists were arrested or abducted to prevent the main rally from going ahead. On July 20th, police arrested and detained Jacob Ngarivhume, leader of the political group Transform Zimbabwe, and journalist, Hopewell Chin’ono, who has published documents raising corruption concerns over Zimbabwean elites profiting from essential supplies to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and has called for the protests on July 31st. Since then, further intimidation tactics have been employed as police have released a wanted list forcing several critics of the current government to go into hiding. Zimbabwe’s restriction of human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly within the Mnangagwa administration have resulted in an online campaign with the hashtag #ZimbabweanLivesMatter.
Outcry to these events have drawn international attention to the campaign including celebrities, such as Ice Cube, who voiced their concern over the current repression and human rights abuse in Zimbabwe. Despite President Emerson Mnangagwa repeatedly voicing his commitments to human rights reforms, he described the anti-corruption protests as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government.” On this the Southern Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, Dewa Mavhinga, said “The heavy deployment of security forces in Zimbabwe to prevent anti-corruption protests shows clearly that this Mnangagwa regime is not what it often claims to be — a listening administration that abhors corruption.” Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, describes the persecution of activists as a “witch-hunt” and “a blatant abuse of the criminal justice system.”
These violations of human rights, which target and intimidate activists who express their criticisms of corruption within the Zimbabwean government are unacceptable. Under the guise of enforcing recent COVID-19 regulations, fear and violence is being used to prevent peaceful protests. Whilst international attention of the Zimbabwean Lives Matter hashtag calls out Zimbabwe’s government for its repression and encourages public consciousness, the international community must do more than acknowledge its existence. International authorities should condemn this repressive deployment of police and military against political opposition.
Last Friday’s events underline wider discussions of Zimbabwe’s human rights reforms with Human Rights Watch citing Zimbabwe as ‘highly intolerant of basic rights, peaceful dissent, and free expression in 2019.’ Zimbabwe’s history of cracking down on protests in January 2019, where at least 17 people were killed and over 1,000 suspected protesters were arrested, do not bode well for the Mnangagwa administration being held accountable for their actions. On March 4th, U.S. President Donald Trump extended sanctions against the administration, however, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) members, including South Africa, supported the Mnangagwa administration and blamed the sanctions for Zimbabwe’s current economic crisis.
The SADC and the African Union should publicly speak out against the Zimbabwe government’s clampdown on peaceful anti-corruption protests and urgently recognize the repression, violence, and fear caused amongst political opposition and activists. The international community should investigate, report on, and sanction the Mnangagwa regime for violations of human rights. Zimbabwe’s government must urgently respect human rights treaties, particularly the right to protest freely and peacefully and recognise that to prevent this right through violent repression is unacceptable.
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