/ 23 January 2019

Systematic torture, killings, abductions, assaults — Zim rights commission speaks out

Zimbabwean cleric and activist Pastor Evan Mawarire exits a prison truck as he arrives at the Harare Magistrates Court.
Zimbabwean cleric and activist Pastor Evan Mawarire exits a prison truck as he arrives at the Harare Magistrates Court. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

Harare — The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) has delivered a devastating report into the ongoing violence in the country, detailing a series of killings, assaults, torture and abductions.

The brutal campaign, spearheaded by soldiers, is part of a vicious response by the state to last week’s protests that rocked the country after President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced an increase in fuel prices amid a worsening economic and political crisis.

The worsening situation has also divided the ruling Zanu-PF party, amid reports of a fall-out between the President and his deputy Constantino Chiwenga, who led the push to oust former President Robert Mugabe in November 2017. There are also rumours of a possible impeachment motion against the President being considered by one Zanu-PF faction.

State-sponsored violence continued on Wednesday, with some people being abducted by the army.

READ MORE: Vicious crackdown in Zimbabwe

In many urban areas, soldiers have been patrolling suburbs beating up residents after imposing an unofficial curfew.

The disturbances in the country forced Mnangagwa, who has since promised national dialogue, to cancel his trip to Davos for the World Economic forum.

The President tweeted that violence or misconduct by the country’s security forces is unacceptable and a betrayal of the “new Zimbabwe”, and shall be investigated.

One of the biggest church groupings in Zimbabwe, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ) said there is a dark cloud of despair and hopelessness over the nation. “Our people are now living in fear of violence, fear of the unavailability and unaffordability of basic goods and services,” the EFZ said.

Following an assessment, the ZHRC said at least eight people were killed and the deaths were mostly attributed to use of live ammunition. “For example, a 22 year old young man, Tinashe Choto died as a result of gunshots and was buried on Saturday 19 January 2019. A post-mortem report read to family members by the authorities confirmed the cause of death as gunshots. Eyewitnesses confirmed that the young man was shot near Makoni Police station during a face-off between the protesters and law enforcement agents. This is what incensed the protesters leading to the attack of Makoni Police Station,” it reads.

It said police admitted that they had arrested primary school children, some as young as 11, although they were later released at police stations.

The human rights commission said witnesses who spoke to the ZHRC highlighted that armed soldiers and police visited their homes starting the evening of Monday 14 January 2019.

“The findings reveal that in the aftermath of the 14th of January 2019 disturbances, armed and uniformed members of the Zimbabwe National Army and the Zimbabwe Republic Police instigated systematic torture,” it says.

The commission said in some instances it was also noted that those aligned to the Movement for Democratic Change including Members of Parliament, Councillors and other active members were targeted.

In Harare, the opposition’s MDC youth leader Lovemore Chinoputsa said on Tuesday that he was also in hiding after night raids were conducted at his home and some family members were harassed.

“They are saying they want to know my whereabouts as they have something to discuss with me, but if it’s real police they should just call me and not these night raids on my family. I take it as a personal and direct attack that my innocent family members and my small kids have had to be harassed in such a way. We join politics as individuals and they ought to pursue their issues n vendettas with me and not anyone else,” he said.

Chinoputsa said he was being persecuted for pursuing a just and legitimate path that those who have failed to run the affairs of the state should move aside.

“This victimisation instead of scaring me has done the opposite. There is nothing new that they would do to me that they have not done on other activists before me. They better try others because I’m prepared to pay with the ultimate price,” Chinoputsa added.

In Bulawayo, human rights activists were reporting harrowing stories of violence perpetrated by soldiers and the police.

One of them — whose name is being withheld by the Mail & Guardian for security reasons — took to Facebook yesterday after visiting some suburbs. He said they had been told chilling stories about how the police and army went door to door harassing and wantonly beating civilians.

“Just been to Mabutweni … to assess the situation. Scores of people were beaten yesterday evening by the army and police. They were going door to door and forcing all males to come out and then making them lie down and then beat them with baton sticks and fan belts. We spoke to a least six males who were badly beaten ranging from the ages of 16 to 59 and they told us about the manner in which the army and police randomly went door to door beating any male on site,” he said.

“Before any national dialogue begins soldiers must go back to their barracks and unlawful detentions must stop “

A pro-democracy campaigner, Makomborero Haruzivishe, in an interview said he was in hiding after a raid at his house In Harare.

He said two of his colleagues had been abducted by the intelligence.

“Alistar Pfunye and Kumbirai Magorimbo were abducted by Central Intelligence operatives, and were later on dumped to the police after torturing. Other activists Adkins Mtetwa and Stephen Chuma were abducted two days ago and are still missing. They were taken by armed soldiers in broad daylight,” he said.

He said however, the harassment will not dampen his resolve.

“They are accusing me of inciting public violence and plotting to subvert President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. We are at a critical crossroads as a nation and historic juncture as a generation. My resolve for social, economic and political liberation for my generation is greater than my fear for the bullets of the oppressor,” he said.

READ MORE: Wanton violence not the Zim way — Mnangagwa