LABOUR rights activist and trade unionist Obert Masaraure (pictured) says the state seeks to silence dissenting voices in a desperate bid to cover up economic failure, which has seen a sharp decline in the quality of life.
The state this week resuscitated a case in which Masaraure is being charged with obstructing the course of justice.
Masaraure, who is represented by Tapiwa Muchineripi of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), is also charged with incitement to commit public violence as defined in section 187(1)(a) of Criminal Code as read with section 36(1)(a) of Criminal Code.
Prosecutors allege that he authored a statement which he published on Twitter and on the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe website, which was meant to prejudice his pending trial while persuading union members and the public to commit violence.
His trial will now commence on 30 June after it was postponed because the trial magistrate was not available.
Masaraure says the government is using persecution to cover up its failure to solve the economic crisis.
“The state is heavily investing in silencing all dissenting voices. The ruling elites have failed to deliver food on the table for the common man,” Masaraure told The NewsHawks.
“The working people are at the receiving end of a dire economic crisis born out of massive looting of national resources, incompetence and failed neo-liberal policies. Having realised that people are hungry and angry, the state is now deploying state institutions against perceived enemies.”
Zimbabwe’s annual inflation has raced 11.3 percentage points from April to 86.5% in May, while monthly inflation skyrocketed from 2.5% to 15.7% in May, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency.
Numbers from the national statistical agency also show that over 70% of transactions are now being done in foreign currency, which is out of the reach of workers.
“Mnangagwa wants to use the likes of Jacob Ngarivhume, Job Sikhala and myself as examples to deter other citizens from speaking out against misgovernance,” he said.
In May, Zengeza West legislator Job Sikhala was convicted, almost a year after his arrest, and slapped with a suspended six-month custodial sentence and a US$600 fine. He has however not been released from custody, despite spending over 340 days in prison, with the state arguing he has outstanding cases.
Opposition Transform Zimbabwe leader Jacob Ngarivhume was arrested for leading and organising the 31 July 2020 protests. He was convicted by magistrate Feresi Chakanyuka and sentenced to 48 month in prison, with 12 months suspended.
Masaraure said the persistent persecution has been taking a toll on his family. “My family is traumatised; they are scared of the state which has consistently unleashed terror only family and myself,” he said.
“The persecution has strengthened my resolve. I am ready to face any form of persecution in pursuit of the ultimate price, freedom for the working class. I am however lucky to have strong support systems that have kept me going.”
Masaraure’s persecution has sparked international outrage. For instance, when the state pressed the 2016 murder charges against him in June last year, the action was met with global outrage.
Masaraure was arrested on 14 June 2022 and charged with the murder of Roy Issa when he went to Harare Central Police Station for his routine remand bail hearing. Issa died in 2016 when he fell from the 7th floor of a Harare hotel.
In June last year, the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations, which has a membership of 12.5 million, wrote to President Emmerson Mnangagwa demanding his unconditional release, while a South African-based pressure group also petitioned Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders over the matter.
During the same period, another international organisation, Frontline Defenders, petitioned Sadc’s executive secretary, strongly condemning Masaraure’s arrest and urging the bloc to intervene and guarantee his release.
Frontline Defenders is headquartered in Dublin, with a European Union office in Brussels, and has regionally-based field staff in the Americas, Asia, Africa, Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
Last week, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Mary Lawlor, who is based in Ireland, flagged Zimbabwean police over arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and ill-treatment of opposition activists and leaders.
Lawlor said Zimbabwe’s bad human rights record has been worsening from the time she assumed office in 2020.
She expressed concern over the treatment of Masaraure, who has faced multiple arrests and charges, as well as torture, for participating in a protest.