Support grows for Zimbabwe protesters

A number of legal and human rights organisations have expressed support for the people of Zimbabwe and for lawyers who are struggling on behalf of clients arrested by the government of Emmerson Mnangagwa. The past few weeks have been marked by violent attacks on protesters by members of the Zimbabwe police, by the arrest of journalists on trumped up charges and their detention after the courts refused bail, and by growing international concern at the stance taken by Manangagwa and his government, now widely regarded as ‘probably worse than (former President) Robert Mugabe’ whose regime became an international by-word for corruption, intolerance of dissent and the violent abuse of political opponents.

This week Human Rights Watch issued two statements on the situation in Zimbabwe. One urged that the Southern African Development Commnity (SADC) and the African Union should urgently speak about against the violent crackdown on ‘peaceful anti-corruption protests’.  The second urges an end to the ‘inhuman prison conditions’ under which activists are being held in Zimbabwe. 

Among the breaches of Zimbabwe’s own constitution, pointed out by HRW in its statement, is the refusal by prison officials to allow private consultations between two high-profile awaiting trial prisoners, prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and opposition political figure, Jacob Ngarivhume, and their legal representatives. Prison officials said they had been instructed to listen in on all conversations between the prisoners and their lawyers. This is in breach of Zimbabwe’s constitution.

Another of the many statements issued this week was that from the Johannesburg Society of Advocates.

The JSA strongly criticised the Mnangagwa government’s crackdown on ‘any forms of dissent’, its arrest of more than 60 opposition figures including activists and journalists on which the JSA described as ‘nebulous charges’.

Reports of unlawful arrests by some people as leverage for others in hiding to give themselves up, of the arrest of opposition political party members, journalists and other outspoken people and the ‘arrest, abduction, torture and sexual assault of women …  are the hallmarks of gross human rights abuses by governments that do not respect the rule of law’

The statement also spoke out strongly on the ‘disturbing reports’ that a number of lawyers have been arrested over the past few months ‘while representing clients seeking to exercise their fundamental human rights…. Such conduct by the government is in beach of the principles of international law ….’

‘To our legal colleagues in Zimbabwe, the JSA says that we stand in solidarity with you and salute your courage in pursuing the highest standards and traditions of our profession without fear, favour or prejudice.’

Joining in the widespread expressions of concern and condemnation, the African Union Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, has issued a statement expressing concern about reports of ‘disproportionate use of force’ and he ‘implored’ the authorities to exercise restraint in responding to peaceful protests. Mahamat also urged the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the rule of law, allow freedom of the media, freedom of association and assembly, and the right to information. Violations of these rights were a breach of the African Charger on Human and Peoples’ Rights, he said, as well as of the 2007 African Charter on democracy, elections and governance.