Military takeover: civil society calls for peaceful, inclusive political transition

At the time of writing, President Mugabe had been detained at his residence during a military takeover of the government caused by a profound crisis over his succession, which involves a contestation between Emmerson Mnangagwa, vice-president until he was dismissed on 6th November, and Grace Mugabe, the president's wife. Talks between Mugabe and the military about the President's resignation are reported to have taken place. On 13th November, army chief Constantine Chiwenga warned that "when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in". The following day, armoured vehicles surrounded the capital Harare, while on 15th November the army declared its intervention to protect the country from "criminals". Arrests of senior officials associated with Grace Mugabe and her G40 faction are reported to have taken place. 

Several national and international civil society groups have called for a peaceful and constitutional resolution of the crisis and a return to a constitutional order. SADC Lawyers Association has called for the rule of law and constitutional order to be upheld while resolving the political dispute. A joint statement of 115 Zimbabwean civil society organisations declared: 

"In the interest of peace, stability and progress in Zimbabwe, we urge President Mugabe to voluntarily step down and pave way for an all-inclusive all stakeholder process which will determine the future of Zimbabwe".

The statement also called on the:

'"Parliament of Zimbabwe to uphold and fulfil their constitutional obligations by ... (iv) Restoring citizens freedoms of assembly and speech by amending restrictive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), (v) Liberalize the media space..."

Association

On 28th October, police officers arrested lawyer and aspiring independent candidate for the general 2018 elections, Fadzai Mahere, during a football tournament she organised as part of her campaign activities. Mahere is known as a critic of the ruling ZANU PF government. According a press statement by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Mahere was interrogated for about seven hours with accusations of violating the provisions of the Public Order and Security Act. 

On 29th September, a court in Harare acquitted #ThisFlag activist, Pastor Evan Mawarire, of charges over inciting public violence and disorderly conduct. The charges stemmed from his participation in a student protest against increasing fees at the University of Zimbabwe in June, as reported previously on the Monitor. Despite his acquittal, Mawarire is still facing charges of allegedly trying to subvert president Robert Mugabe's government when organising nationwide protests in 2016. Mawarire was also shortly arrested on 24th September at his church over a Facebook post in which he criticised the dire economic situation in the country, showing long queues at petrol stations. A Harare court released Mawarire as police failed to bring him to court within 48 hours of his arrest, as required by law. 

On 3rd August, Mbane magistrate released the remaining three activists - Kudakwashe Billiat, Herbert Mubaiwa and Blessmore Nyaruwangawho - who were among the 36 arrested during the #ZimbabweShutdown protests on 6th July 2016. Kudzai Kadzere from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights asserted that: 

"This acquittal confirms what we always say, that the police have been using high-handed tactics and brutal tactics to victimise people without in any way applying their mind to what they will be doing".

The authorities summoned pro-democracy campaigner and leader of the Zimbabwe Activists' Association, Lynette Mudehwe, to stand trial at the Harare Magistrates Court on 17th August on charges of "criminal nuisance" for allegedly having participated in a anti-government protest two years prior. Zimbabwean Republic Police officers claim that Mudehwe entered the Rainbow Towers on 30th November 2015 during the International Conference on AIDS and STDs in Africa with the intention to cause annoyance or disturbance of public peace. 

Expression

Arrest and assault of journalists

Police officers arrested journalist Kenneth Nyangani of NewsDay newspaper on 2nd October on charges of "criminal nuisance" under the Criminal Law Act for writing a story on a donation by Grace Mugabe of used clothes, including used undergarments, to supporters of Zanu-PF. He was later granted bail

On 29th September, Daily News journalist Mugove Tafirenyika and photographer Brighton Goko sustained serious injuries while reporting on a protest of Tajamuka activists. Riot police cracked down on the protests and fired rubber bullets on protesters. This follows another incident two months prior when police officers assaulted and arrested three journalists of the Alpha Media Holdings and their driver for "filming police details" of a scuffle between spike-throwing traffic officers and members of the public. 

During a press briefing of the ZANU PF Youth League on 19th October, a group of youth members of the league allegedly manhandled NewsDay journalist Richard Chidza for a story Chidza wrote on a fall-out within the youth league leadership structure. The Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) - Zimbabwe issued a statement on the attacks against media workers, stating that:

"As we draw close to the impending 2018 elections, MISA Zimbabwe calls upon the political parties to reign in their structures and supporters against attacking the media while it discharges its professional duties".

Ministry of Cyber Security Threat Detection and Mitigation and the first Twitter arrest

On 9th October, the Zimbabwean government installed a new Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation, which will be headed by Patrick Chinamasa, former Minister of Finance and Economic Development. High-ranking officials have previously issued veiled threats, including the then-Minister of Finance Chinamasa who said on 27th September that recent economic problems stemmed from social media, declaring that:

"The cause was social media, which means that it is a security issue. There is a political agenda, a regime change agenda. So, as far as I am concerned, we are going to seriously look at what happened with a view to taking corrective measures in the security arena…"

Meanwhile, the first Twitter-related arrest was made on 3rd November. Authorities arrested U.S. citizen Martha O'Donovan, who works for Magamba TV, on charges of subversion and undermining authority or insulting President Robert Mugabe under the Criminal Law . O'Donovan allegedly posted a tweet stating "a goblin whose wife and step-son bought a Rolls Royce" without naming Mugabe. A High Court granted O'Donovan bail on 9th November due to a "patent absence of facts", after an appeal made by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights on her behalf. 

On 14th September, detectives of the Criminal Investigation Department Law and Order Section raided Magamba Network Trust, a social media outlet in Harare, confiscating laptops, computers and printers belonging to Magamba TV as part of an investigation into "the commission or suspected commission of the offence of subverting constitutional government".