Top Church leaders have spoken out amid escalating claims of a crackdown against human rights defenders, activists, civil society leaders, creatives and members of the opposition party by suspected state agents in a bid to suppress nationwide protests coordinated by the Movement for Democratic Change.
The demonstrations are aimed at pressuring President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government to rectify the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe, characterised by a debilitating liquidity crunch, foreign currency shortages, rising inflation, spiralling basic commodity prices, erosion of disposable incomes, power outages and low productivity.
Posting on the microblogging site Twitter, Senior Pastor and former President of the Evangelical Fellowship Of Zimbabwe Dr Shingi Munyeza spurred the government to deal with the issue, saying it is the State’s responsibility to protect its citizens.
“Abductions, beatings and torture must stop. I’m totally disgusted and alarmed by an unprecedented trend of abductions in our country. It’s worrying that the State has not come up with a position on stopping this. The State must protect its citizens and culprits brought to book,” Dr Munyeza wrote.
The cleric who also serves as one of President Mnangagwa’s advisors cryptically added:
“Evil prevails when good people resign!
Indeed, we need responsible leadership to arise.
In the Bible, Saul falls on his own sword and even David mourned for the loss of Saul and Jonathan. Let’s focus.”
Unconfirmed reports by the leftists in the country have implied that state agents are behind the abductions and tortures that have victimised the likes of top comedienne Samantha “Gonyeti” Kureya of the Bustop TV, leader of the activist group Citizens Manifesto Tatenda Mombeyarara and Blessing Kanotunga, among others.
Several people have been abducted, tortured and beaten up by suspected state security agents before and during public protests over the current harsh economic situation.
But the State has denied any hand on the abductions and blamed an unidentified “third force”.
In a statement, Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Permanent Secretary Mr Nick Mangwana, said Government is concerned about reports of alleged abductions and torture of citizens by unknown assailants and is looking into the cases to ensure all citizens are treated with dignity and respect.
He added that since the emergence of the Second Republic, there has been a force comprising discharged and disgruntled former members of the old establishment (Mugabe’s old dispensation) who have shown determination to impair President Mnangagwa’s image and attract international outrage.
“We have noted with concern and distress reports of alleged abductions and torture of citizens by unknown assailants in Harare. Whilst the Zimbabwe Republic Police are still investigating these allegations and establishing their veracity, Government would like to inform the public of the following: torture, arbitrary punishment and degrading treatment by anyone is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution and ethos of the Second Republic. As Government, we undertake to uphold the rights of citizens to be treated with dignity and respect.
“Since the emergence of the new dispensation, there has always been a force comprised of discharged and disgruntled former members of the old establishment, of whom some are trained. These have shown a determination to impair President Mnangagwa’s image as a sincere reformer through various acts of malice and criminality in order to cause both local and international outrage.
“This is a third force that we have reasonable grounds to believe is in existence. Its hands in the incidences of alleged violation of human rights, where established, cannot be discounted,” he said.
As an air of uncertainty still covers up who the fouling third force is, the Secretary-general of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches Reverend Dr Kenneth Mtata, has chipped in with a possible explanation of who the abductors could be.
The Rev Dr, who has repeatedly sought to broker a dialogue between President Mnangagwa and MDC leader Nelson Chamisa amid the country’s worsening socio-political and economic situation, wrote;
“Possible explanations of these abductions and torture
Competing states actors seeking to soil each other
State instilling fear and silencing of dissent
Non-state actors seeking to discredit the gvt
State lost capacity to protect citizens
All possibilities are scurry!”
Human rights watchers have confirmed that over six human rights defenders, activists, civil society leaders, creatives and members of the opposition party were taken from their homes at night by armed men in unmarked cars, accused of involvement in the protests, stripped, beaten and then abandoned.
The government has said that some of the abduction and torture cases have been reported to the police in Harare.
Meanwhile, several countries have expressed concern over human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
In a joint statement, the heads of mission of the European Union, France, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the United States of America said the government should respect the Zimbabwe Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, movement and assembly and the right for people to protest peacefully.
“Intimidation, harassment and physical attacks on human rights defenders, trade union and civil society representatives and opposition politicians-prior to, during and following the demonstrations in Harare on 16 August – are cause for great concern.
“The Zimbabwean constitution guarantees the right to personal security from violence and prohibits physical or psychological torture. The heads of Missions urge the authorities to respect these fundamental rights and to hold perpetrators of violence legally responsible.”
They urged President Mnangagwa’s government to respect the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly, association and expressions as well as to peaceful protest.
With the MDC threatening more demonstrations, Amnesty International said that more crackdown against human rights defenders, activists, civil society leaders and members of the opposition is underway.
“We are witnessing a violent crackdown on activists and civil society leaders, with authorities using some of the brutal tactics seen under the government of Robert Mugabe. Instead of listening to protestors’ concerns about the economy, the authorities have used torture and abduction to crush dissent and instil fear,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa.
“Rather than targeting dissent the Zimbabwean authorities should focus on improving the country’s economy and the lives of the population. Millions of people live in poverty and are routinely denied their human rights, and suspected perpetrators of human rights violations continue to enjoy almost absolute impunity.”
Human rights and other civil society organisations (CSOs) have since called on Sadc, African Union and the international community to rein in the Zimbabwean government as tensions rise over alleged abductions.
In a joint statement by heads of CSOs in Zimbabwe, read by Jestina Mukoko, the State was accused of hunting down dissenting voices.
“We note with regret that six people so far were abducted by suspected State agents in the evening of August 13 and 14, and they have been severely tortured and left for dead. One of the victims had a harmful caustic liquid poured on his body. During the torture, the men accused the victims of being involved in organising the August 16 demonstrations,” Mukoko said.
The CSOs said the government was violating its own Constitution and other international and regional conventions that speak against torture.
Zimbabwe is crippled by massive debts incurred during former President Mugabe’s rule and needs a multibillion-dollar bailout to prevent economic collapse.
However, continuing repression and a lack of tangible political reform mean there is little chance of international institutions offering major aid packages.
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