Human Rights Situational Report 24 April to 30 April 2021

General atmosphere

The new dispensation promised significant improvements in the standard of living of citizens, among other sweeping reforms,through economic resuscitation programs popularised by the “Zimbabwe is open for business” mantra. Contrary to these promises, the latest data from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStat) points to a country in crisis. The data shows that the monthly cost of living for a family of five has increased to ZWL $28 362 in April from ZWL $26 560 in March.

This cost of living is beyond the reach of most citizens, considering that professionals such as teachers earn a paltry ZWL $15 000.The economic situation is also entangled in politics, corruption, human rights abuses and a total disregard for the rule of law. The thirst to retain superlative power by the executive which perpetuates hate speech and intolerance for divergent views makes civil society organisations a target wherein they are labelled “agents of the west” and affiliated with political parties as a means of silencing and gagging their voices.

The Herald on 27 April 2021 directly attacked the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum (the Forum) through a malicious report aligning the Forum to an opposition political party. The statement, which was filled with vitriolic allegations and hate speech is indeed a poor attempt to silence well-meaning civil society organisations.

The independence of the Judiciary continues to be a cause for concern, particularly in relation to the seeming weaponization of the courts to punish dissenting voices through prolonged pre-trial incarceration. The dismissal of the case against Hopewell Chin’ono on 28 April shows a deliberate attempt to punish him for speaking out against corruption. He was charged with communicating false information, a section of the law which was struck down by the Constitutional Court. In the same fashion, the cases of member of parliament, Joana Mamombe; elected Harare Mayor, Jacob Mafume and opposition activists Vongai Tome, Cecillia Chimbiri and Makomborero Haruzivishe among others show a trend of deliberate prolonged pre-trial incarceration to frustrate government critics.

COVID-19 update

As of 29 April 2021, Zimbabwe had 38 235 confirmed cases, including 35 594 recoveries and 1 567 deaths. To date, more than 400 000 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19.To curb the spread of COVID-19, the Zimbabwe Republic Police cautioned citizens against deviating from the lockdown regulations through undertaking leisure activities such as braai parties and alcohol drinking sprees at bars, beer halls and restaurants as these remain banned under the current COVID-19 lockdown regulations. Operators who continue to defy Covid-19 health and safety measures were warned that their operating licences will be revoked. Further, the police warned the public, who include college and university students, to adhere to the COVID-19 curfew order. Meanwhile, the government announced that it is set to construct Covid-19 treatment centres in Matabeleland South province in Beitbridge, Gwanda and Plumtree. These centres are set to have intensive care units as well as high dependency care units that are expected to cater for critically ill patients.

Unlawful arrests

  • The unlawful arrests of human rights defenders and perceived dissenting voices including opposition party supporters continued unabated. History has exposed the deliberate weaponization of state security agents against perceived enemies of the State. The Forum has noted the increased deployment of law enforcement officers at the Harare Magistrate Court and the subsequent arrest and assault of civilians inside the court premises. In the week ending 30 April 2021, the following cases of unlawful arrests were documented:
  • On 30 April police officers at the Harare Magistrates Court arrested Webster Jiti, a human rights lawyer from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR). Reports indicate that Jiti was arrested a she was consulting with his clients who were appearing in court. The police officers accused Jiti of undermining police authority but released him without charge.
  • On 27 April, police officers arrested Obey Sithole outside the Harare Magistrates Court. Sithole was charged with criminal nuisance on allegations that he participated in a demonstration at the New Government Complex on 1 April 2021 in solidarity with Makomborero Haruzivishe.
  • On 24 April, nine people including Prosper Tiringindi were arrested for allegedly staging a sit-in protest outside Masvingo City Council offices demanding improvement in service delivery from the local authority. The nine people were released on ZWL $5 000 bail each after receiving legal assistance from ZLHR.
  • On 15 April, Never Tshuma from Katambe Village in Dinde was arrested and charged with inciting public violence. This followed an incident in which citizens resisted the setting up of coal mining operations on their ancestral land by Beifer Investments,operated by Chinese nationals. Tshuma chairs the Dinde Development Association in Hwange.

Assault and torture

Police brutality and state repression in the form of physical, and psychological torture have become common instruments of law enforcement in Zimbabwe. Police brutality is fueled by impunity and a lack of political will to deal with malcontents who torture unarmed civilians. In the week ending 30 April 2021, the following case was documented:

  • On 27 April police officers clad in anti-riot gear and armed with baton sticks and tear gas assaulted students at Harare Polytechnic. It is alleged that students were gathered at the college entrance trying to gain access into the campus.The Principal, Eng.Mudondo,allegedly called the police to “restore order.” This led to the assault of the students and three were injured.

Court Update

On 28 April 2021, ZLHR secured the release of Ngonidzashe Mupfumba, Patrick Shumba and Kudakwashe Butau, after they were arrested in April for attending Makomborero Haruzivishe’s court session. The trio was released on ZWL $5 000 bail and ordered to report to police once every fortnight on Fridays. On the same note, ZLHR also secured the release of investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono on charges of communicating or publishing falsehoods.The Forum secured the release of Vongai Tome at the High Court on 28 April 2021.Tome had endured 22 days in detention on allegations of disorderly conduct after she raised alarm when a police officer fondled her breast at the Harare Magistrate Courts.

Summary of Violations

The following are the summary of human rights violations documented by the Forum Secretariat and Forum Members from 5 January 2021 to 23April2021.

  • Thirty-eight assault and torture cases were recorded in Hwange, Binga, Bulawayo, Chipinge, Fig Tree, Gweru, Mt Darwin, Harare, Beitbridge, Mutare, Mvurwi.
  • Fifty-nine arbitrary arrests were recorded in Gweru, Nkulumane, Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru, Masvingo.
  • Seven attacks against journalists were recorded in Harare, Masvingo, Masvingo.
  • One extrajudicial was recorded in Gweru.

Source: Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

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