Soldiers deployed in opposition protests: at least 6 people killed

On 30th July, Zimbabweans headed to the polls for the first general elections since Robert Mugabe's demise after a military takeover in November 2017. On 1st August 2018, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced that the ruling ZANU-PF won a majority of seats in the parliamentary elections, 109 out of 210 seats. A day later, on 2nd August, ZANU-PF's Emmerson Mnangagwa was announced as the winner of the presidential poll with 50.8% of the vote, winning in six of the ten provinces in Zimbabwe. Main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, of the MDC Alliance received 44.2% of the vote, according to the ZEC. Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance called the election results "fraudulent, illegal, illegitimate and characterised by serious credibility gaps".  

Hopes for a new Zimbabwe were dashed with the subsequent post-election violence: security forces used excessive violence during opposition protests, including the use of live ammunition, on 1st August (see under Peaceful Assembly) followed by a subsequent crackdown on opposition members and supporters (see under Association). The post-election violence and the human rights violations during this period has been condemned by civil society and international actors alike, such as by the Heads of Missions of the EU, USA, Canada and Switzerland. 

Pre-election monitoring 

In its pre-election press statement, the Election Situation Room (ESR), established on 27th June 2018, gathering over 40 civil society organisations with the aim to observe the electoral process, said that the campaign has been conducted in a relatively peaceful manner despite reports of intimidation, voter buying, destruction of campaign materials, hate speech and the use of administrative resources in favour of the ruling party - ZANU-PF. The ESR also noted that representation of women in the 2018 election has decreased with only 13 percent of the candidates being women due to the hostile political environment. 

"Women candidates and those in positions of authority, such as the chairperson of ZEC, have been trolled in print, broadcast, and particularly social media. This does not provide for a level playing field and does not allow for inclusive participation."

Human Rights Watch also noted an increase of intimidation and harassment of voters before the polls, especially in rural areas by ward-level ZANU-PF officials, in the two weeks prior to the elections. This included the refusal of food aid and farm inputs to citizens that do not pledge ZANU-PF support, threats of eviction of opposition supporters from communities and directives to village leaders to keep a list of opposition supporters. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 1st August, soldiers and anti-riot police used water cannons, tear gas and opened fire on opposition protesters and bystanders, resulting in the killing of at least 6 people, and injured several others. Additionally, several people were beaten. Authorities deployed the military in the streets, using the controversial Public Order and Security Act, against an opposition protest in front of offices of the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) after clashes between protesters and police officers took place. Opposition supporters gathered accusing the institution of bias.

In a seperate development, the Zimbabwe High Court overturned on 12th June 2018 the conviction of six pro-democracy campaigners, led by University lecturer Munyaradzi Gwisai. The six were arrested in 2011 and charged with conspiracy to incite public violence for allegedly plotting a protest against president Mugabe. The six were convicted and sentenced to two years in jail in March 2012 with the sentence suspended for five years. 

Association

Scores of opposition members have gone into hiding, after a crackdown on MDC Alliance supporters intensified after the deadly opposition protests on 1st August in Harare (see under Peaceful Assembly). Human Rights Watch documented several instances where security forces and unidentified armed men beat up and harassed people in Harare as they searched for MDC Alliance party officials. In one incident, six unidentified perpetrators broke into the house of Happymore Chidziva, Youth Chair for the MDC Alliance, on 5th August 2018, where they beat, threatened and kicked a woman who was present in Chidziva's house. Three members of another family in the same house were likewise beaten up, while two men were abducted to a secluded place, where they were further assaulted before being released. 

Dewa Mavhinga of Human Rights Watch said

"With soldiers unleashing violence against ruling party opponents, the veneer of respect for human rights and democratic rule that President Emmerson Mnangagwa claimed is now clearly gone. His administration needs to act quickly to restore its integrity and commitment to the rule of law."

On 3rd August 2018, riot police was deployed at a MDC Alliance press conference in the Bronte Hotel in Harare, where they almost started to beat journalists, using shields and batons to shoo the journalists away. The journalists stood ground, and the press conference went ahead after an order from the Minister of Information. The Zimbabwe Republic Police apologised after the incident. A day earlier, on 2nd August 2018, police raided the MDC Alliance party headquarters , sealing off the premises and arrested 22 MDC Alliance supporters. On 6th August 2018, 27 MDC Alliance supporters appeared before a judge on charges of committing public violence in relation to the deathly protests on 1st August. The 27 were released on a 50 USD bail. 

Senior MDC Alliance leader Tendai Biti was briefly detained at the border with Zambia on 8th August, where he sought to seek asylum following threats of arrest for "unofficially and unlawfully" announcing Chamisa as the new president. Zambian police handed Biti over to Zimbabwean authorities despite a court order halting Biti's deportation. 

Expression

Assault journalists during post-election violence

Several journalists were assaulted during the opposition protests on 1st August (see under Peaceful Assembly). The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe received reports of several incidents involving journalists. A soldier whipped freelance journalist Idah Mhetu with electrical cords while she was covering events that day. Freelance journalist Daniel Chigundu was hit with stones on his head while he was standing in a crowd of protesters forcing their way to the election command center of the Zimbabwe Election Commission. Southern African correspondent for the Financial Times Joseph Cotterill alleged that a soldier threatened him and raised an assault rifle at him. 

On 3rd August 2018, soldiers detained Tinotenda Samukange, journalist for Newsday, for close to three hours in the Harare suburb of Kuwadzana, despite Samukange identified himself as a journalist. Samukange was in the suburb to cover events after hearing that the military was deployed in Kuwadzana. 

Threats and harassment of journalists during pre-election period

In the run-up to the polls on 30th July, there have been several instances of attacks and intimidation of journalists by party supporters - both from the ruling ZANU-PF as from opposition parties. On 15th July 2018, four youth supporters of the opposition MDC Alliance assaulted freelance journalist Tamuka Charakupa in Chitungwiza, Harare, while he was taking pictures with his phone of clashes between ZANU-PF and MDC Alliance supporters. The perpetrators stole Charakupa's phone, broke his glasses and gave a blow on his ear. Two of the four perpetrators were identified and arrested. On 26th June 2018, a ZANU-PF youth allegedly threatened and harassed The Mirror journalist Miriam Mangwaya while she was travelling back from the burial of Chief Hama in Chirumanzi district. The youth accused Mangwaya of reporting negatively on ZANU-PF and grabbed her by the collar of her jacket. 

Threats by government officials

During a press conference in early July 2018, Director of Public Relations of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, Colonel Overson Mugwisi, accused journalists reportedly of spreading misinformation and singled out four journalists by name for "bad and mischievous reporting". 

Deputy minister of Finance and Member of Parliament (MP), Terrence Mukupe, issued public threats against Newsday journalist Blessed Mhlanga during a live show on radio station SFM on 24th May. The live discussion revolved around a story Mhlanga published the previous day, claiming that Mukupe said, during ZANU-PF meeting, the ruling party would not accept the election results if main opposition leader Nelson Chamisa would win the Presidency. According to MISA Zimbabwe, two aides of the deputy minister physically assaulted Mhlanga's wife when the Minister noticed her recording the incident with her phone.