CIVICUS

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Zimbabwe

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 16.01.2019 at 09:57

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Internet shutdown as security forces crackdown on protests: Protesters and citizens killed

Internet shutdown as security forces crackdown on protests: Protesters and citizens killed

protesters killed, internet shutdown as security forces violently disperse demonstrations against sharp fuel price hike

Peaceful Assembly

On 14th January 2019, protests broke out in Bulawayo and Harare over a sharp hike in fuel prices introduced by the government. In Harare, protestors barricaded roads and burnt tires, while protestors in Bulawayo were reported to have thrown stones at the police. The general populace stayed home in response to a three day stay away called for by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions in response to the fuel rise. Two days prior, President Emmerson Mnagangwa had announced a 150% fuel price increase saying it was intended to ease access to fuel which has been in short supply over the last few months. The following day, it was reported that at least three people were shot dead and scores injured as security forces cracked down on the escalating protests, violently dispersing protesters.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said 13 people had sustained gunshot wounds in and around Harare on 14th January while at least 200 people were arrested.

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa, said:

“The Zimbabwean authorities must ensure that people are able to express their views freely and safely and must promptly investigate in an independent and impartial manner allegations of police shootings of protesters…“The police must use force only when strictly necessary. Even then, they must exercise restraint at all times and use the lowest level of force needed. Firearms may only be used as a last resort, and when strictly unavoidable, to protect life.”

US senators urged the Zimbabwean government to respect the rights of protestors, and to restore access to social media, internet and telephone services. In a statement issued on 16th January they said:

“We are deeply troubled by reports of deaths, widespread arrests, beatings, and harassment of protestors by security forces of the Government of Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean people have the constitutional right to protest peacefully and express themselves regarding developments in their country. Government officials and security forces must respond with professionalism and respect for human rights and the rule of law. We also call on the Government of Zimbabwe to rescind the directive ordering communication service providers to cut or restrict access to social media, internet, and telephone services. Such abrogations of constitutional and basic legal rights are not what the people of Zimbabwe were promised under President Mnangagwa. Instead, the government should work to meet the basic economic and social needs of its people. We strongly urge the Zimbabwean authorities to resolve the current situation through dialogue and non-violent, fully legal means, and for protesters to exercise their constitutional rights peacefully. Under no circumstances should the Zimbabwean government disregard the constitutional rights of its citizens, engage in the illegal suppression of expression and assembly, or employ the disproportionate use of force or extralegal violence to respond to the current situation.”

In the aftermath of of the mass protests on 14th January, the army and police forcefully entered private residences and extracted, arrested and assaulted citizens. On 16th January, armed Zimbabwean police officers arrested pastor Evan Mawarire in connection to the protests. His lawyer told Reporters that the police intended to charge him with inciting public violence through social media.

Expression

Following the protests, Zimbabwe's mobile phone networks and internet were partially shut down. Access to social media sites such as Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter was blocked while service providers such as Econet and TelOne went ahead to close down entire access to the internet.

According to reports received by MISA Zimbabwe, Journalists were also caught up in the protests and running battles between protestors and security agents. John Cassim, a foreign correspondent, was harassed by a crowd of protestors near 4th Street bus terminus in Harare. Freelance journalist Mqondisi Nzipho was also detained by police in Bulawayo as he covered the protests, despite displaying his media accreditation information to them.

Association

The right to freedom of association is guaranteed under Zimbabwe’s constitution. However,

The right to freedom of association is guaranteed under Zimbabwe’s constitution. However, adherence to this right is not reflected in domestic laws and regulations, nor in practice. Associations are subject to mandatory registration requirements through complex registration procedures, with severe penalties (including fines and imprisonment) for operating as an unregistered group.Associations can be denied legal recognition on broad and politically motivated grounds, with no clear timeframe for review or appeal processes. Foreign funding is restricted for organisations engaged in voter educating programmes, which is matched by hostile government rhetoric against groups that receive foreign funding. NGOs and their leaders are also subject to routine harassment and intimidation.

Peaceful Assembly

Anti-government protests have proliferated in Zimbabwe since June 2016, as the country heads towards elections in 2018.

Anti-government protests have proliferated in Zimbabwe since June 2016, as the country heads towards elections in 2018. Between July 5 and July 15, 2016 at least 300 people were arrested and charged with violating provisions of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act after participating in peaceful protests over economic mismanagement by the government. Police have responded to the wave of protests by indiscriminately using water cannons, teargas, and batons against peaceful protestors.

Expression

Freedom of expression is guaranteed under Zimbabwe’s constitution, but this right is undermined by a repressive legal framework.

Freedom of expression is guaranteed under Zimbabwe’s constitution, but this right is undermined by a repressive legal framework. Throughout 2015, at least 10 journalists were arrested for writing articles critical of government officials and faced charges under the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The government is also developing a Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill that would severely limit citizens’ access to information, monitor private communications, and impose prison sentences on violators. Human rights defender Itai Dzamara was forcible disappeared on 9 March 2015. State authorities, who have denied involvement in his abduction, have conducted no meaningful investigations into his disappearance. In August 2016, Pastor Evan Mawarire- organiser of the #ThisFlag campaign, was forced to flee Zimbabwe on the basis of threats and judicial harassment.