Government attacks all core civic space freedoms

Peaceful Assembly

The political climate in Zimbabwe remains tense as intelligence, police and military forces stay on high alert. Demonstrations held by civic organisations and opposition political parties are being routinely repressed by police using water canons and tear gas, and arresting large numbers of protesters. Some of those detained are either released without being charged or acquitted after trial. Police violence against protesters has led to further demonstrations specifically focused on police brutality. The last such demonstration in Harare was staged by youths from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on 24th August, and was repressed by police, leading to chaos including street battles, burnt vehicles and looted stores.

Association

On 27th July President Robert Mugabe dismissed the leadership of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association and ordered the organisation to hold new internal elections. The veterans had previously accused Mugabe of being authoritarian, promoting factionalism and mismanaging the economy, described him as a "genocidal dictator" and withdrawn support for him and his party ahead of the 2018 elections. A pro-Mugabe faction in the association stepped in as an interim executive and convened a special meeting to elect a new leadershipbut the displaced leaders resorted to the courts and obtained an interim order suspending the meeting.

Expression

A crackdown on social media, a tool that is widely used for protest organisation, is underway in Zimbabwe. In August the government introduced a so-called Computer Crime and Cyber Crime Bill, which under the label of "cyber-terrorism" would criminalise the diffusion of information through social media. The proposed bill would also allow the police to seize laptops and smartphones. While the bill has not yet been passed, the move to close online space has already claimed its first victim, as prominent government critic Jealousy Mawarire was recently charged with cyber-terrorism having had a twitter spat with the Minister of Higher Education, Jonathan Moyo. The Minister filed a complaint against Mawarire and had him arrested on 11th August.

Access to the web has also been restricted as a result of the government-imposed ban on "special offers" or "promotions" on data bundles by cellphone service providers. In an attempt to quash activism on social media around the rising #ThisFlag movement, the government ordered cellphone network operators to increase their data tariffs by up to 500%, drastically curtailing citizens' ability to access the internet.