ZIMBABWE’S human rights record plummeted in 2022, and is expected to worsen, further plunging the country into isolation, Amnesty International has reported.
While the government claims to have somewhat made strides in re-engaging with the West over the years, the efforts have been frustrated by a deteriorating human rights record.
According to the latest report by the human rights organisation titled: The State of Human Rights, the Zimbabwean government has notoriously strangled freedom of association and peaceful assembly in 2022.
During the period, rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly were increasingly threatened.
“Journalists were arrested under the cybercrimes law; the Private Voluntary Organisation (PVO) Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament; and members and supporters of the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), the main opposition party, were intimidated, harassed, attacked and assaulted during parliamentary and local government by-elections which took place in March,” read the report.
In a practical demonstration of the shrinking space for free expression, this week President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, George Charamba, issued a chilling warning, threatening to jail journalists reporting on the findings of an investigation by Qatari news channel Al Jazeera on the smuggling of gold by politically connected elites, sparking a public outcry.
A decrease in freedom of association was also evident in February this year, when main opposition CCC president Nelson Chamisa told The NewsHawks that over 62 of his party’s rallies were either disrupted, or banned by the police, despite other political parties enjoying the same privilege.
In June last year, the government also introduced the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill in Parliament, which has been condemned as a weapon to constrict civil liberties.
“Its provisions threatened the right to freedom of association and the very existence of civil society organisations and their operations. Clause 2 gives the minister discretionary and overly broad powers to designate organisations as being at ‘high risk of, or vulnerable to misuse by terrorist organisations’ .”
The Bill, which has already sailed through the National Assembly has been met with outrage from opposition legislators, over its overtures to close the civic space, ahead of this year’s general election.
According to the report, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly was continuously violated and undermined as police and supporters of the ruling Zanu PF disrupted the CCC’s political rallies and violently attacked its members.
On 27 February, a gang of Zanu PF youths reportedly armed with machetes, beer bottles, iron bars, spears and bricks, disrupted a CCC rally in Kwekwe and tried to stop people from attending.
Mboneni Ncube, a 30-year-old CCC supporter, was stabbed to death with a spear, and at least 17 others were seriously injured in the attack. His killers continue intimidating witnesses.
Amnesty International also accused the government of weaponising the law against the opposition. With over two-thirds representation in Parliament, Zanu PF has made it easy for the party to introduce legislation which suffocates the opposition.
“Authorities weaponised the law to persecute CCC members and supporters by subjecting them to arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention and unfair trials. On 6 February, police arrested 10 party supporters in Mkoba, Gweru, during a roadshow to canvass for votes ahead of the by-elections. They were released without charge two days later.
“On 14 June, two CCC MPs Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole (MP for Chitungwiza North) were arrested and charged with inciting violence at the wake of Moreblessing Ali in Nyatsime, Chitungwiza. Moreblessing Ali was a party activist who was abducted in Nyatsime on 24 May, allegedly by a Zanu PF supporter.
“In June her body was found dumped in a well. The police accused Job Sikhala of inciting party supporters to violence at the wake to avenge her death, after he read out the family’s statement about the circumstances of her death. Fourteen other CCC members attending the wake were also arrested,” read the report.
Sikhala has lost several freedom bids, spending over 280 days in prison.
In November last year, 15 other people arrested together with Sikhala were released ahead of a visit to Harare by a Commonwealth delegation led by assistant secretary-general Professor Luis Franceschi from 12 to 18 November, which was meant to assess if the country is ready to rejoin the club.
Sithole was granted ZW$300 000 bail by Harare magistrate Marevanazvo Gofa after spending 150 days in prison.
“Members of civil society groups were also subjected to arbitrary arrests. On 8 February, police arrested 10 members of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network in Mbare, Harare. They were detained at Mbare Police Station for providing voter education without official clearance and later released without charge.
“On 8 July, Obert Masaraure, the president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz), was arrested by ZRP officers and charged with incitement to cause public violence after publishing a tweet demanding the release of his Artuz colleague, Robson Chere.
“Robson Chere had been arrested on 5 July and charged with the murder of a fellow Artuz member in 2016, a charge on which Obert Masaraure himself had previously been arrested, and for which charges against him remained outstanding.”
In connection with the charges related to his tweet, Masaraure was released on bail equivalent to US$107 on 4 August by the High Court in Harare after being denied bail by a magistrate’s court.
The human rights watchdog also highlighted unlawful killings that occurred in 2022.
“On 17 August, Tawanda Zvinowanda was killed by the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officers in custody after being arrested that morning on robbery allegations. He was arrested at his home in Chitungwiza, Mashonaland East province, by three plain-clothes Criminal Investigation Department police officers.
“According to his wife’s witness account, he was brutally beaten by the three officers prior to his arrest; he was then handcuffed and thrown into the boot of a vehicle. The police officers did not inform him or his family of the reasons for his arrest.
“On 20 August, Levy Musendo, a mental health patient, was killed by members of the Presidential Guard (a military unit) after he was accused of attempting to break into State House, the President’s official residence, in Harare. Levy Musendo left home in Mufakose on 19 August and when he failed to return, his family filed a missing person’s report,” read the report.