Tortured Members of the Zimbabwean Opposition now face Charges
Three members of the Zimbabwean opposition who have described suffering torture at the hands of state forces have now been charged with promoting public violence and ignoring coronavirus lockdown regulations. The charges relate to their organisation of a protest on 13th May over high number of Zimbabweans suffering food shortages during the lockdown.
The three women, Zimbabwe’s youngest Member of Parliament Joan Mamombe, as well as Movement for Democratic Change youth leaders Netsai Marova and Cecilia Chimbiri, were arrested at a roadblock controlled by police and soldiers in Harare. Two days later they were discovered by a man dumped on the roadside 80 kilometres north of Harare.
The torture the women have since described is harrowing. Cecilia Chimbiri described the solders taking the women to a remote wooded area where, according to Mamombe they forced the women to march and sing protest songs: “they were pouring water on us. They beat us if we stopped. They made us drink each other’s urine. They were fondling Cecilia”. The brutal actions of the soldiers were also overtly political. Chimbiri described being left on the side of the road after the torture as the soldiers stated “we will be watching you… What is so special about you that you want to turn against the government?”
The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, Nelson Chamisa, demanded international intervention. Western embassies have since called for a fast investigation into the alleged abuction, writing in a joint statement that “the perpetrators of heinous acts of this kind and other human rights violations need to be identified and prosecuted”. The statement was signed by envoys from the European Union, Norway, United Kingdom, Switzerland, and the United States. Moreover, the European Union has described its “deep concern” at the reported “torture and humiliation”.
However, police have denied any responsibility for this abduction, and instead are intimating the attackers were posing as state forces. This was a tactic regularly employed under the Mugabe regime as more and more commentators argue that the Zimbabwean President Mnangagwa is exploiting lockdown conditions to enforce public subservience. Police have even presented themselves as victims in this case, describing abuse they have received from members of the public on social media.
And now, in an apparent rejection of the international condemnation of this incident, the three women have been charged by the government whilst they recover in hospital from their numerous injuries. The government appears to be justifying this action on the basis that the abductions were faked. The situation has become all the more sinister since two journalists were arrested last week for trying to interview the three women in hospital.
To avoid what could become a gross miscarriage of justice, the international community must respond with a greater weight than official declarations and signed statements. Both the SADC and the wider group of UN Nations must insist on an independent and external review of not just this situation, but the increasing reports of human rights abuses more generally under Mnangagwa. Not just this, the international media must also do more to place these atrocities within the public consciousness and promote collective action against a government that threatens to commit further incidents of abuse and torture against its own population.
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