Government intensifies crackdown following January 2019 protests


Lawyers and doctors threatened for assisting protesters

On 17th February 2019, it was reported that president Emmerson Mnagangwa had issued threats against lawyers and doctors who offered assistance to protesters who were involved in the January 2019 protests. Mnagangwa accused them of cushioning the protesters and inciting violence. Speaking at a Zanu PF rally, the president said "We are now going after those doctors who were involved in those activities...Those lawyers that were inciting violence, we are now going after them."

After the protests which were previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, an estimated 1,100 people were arrested, 700 of whom appeared in court represented by lawyers from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR).

Opposition party officials arrested

In March 2019, Police intensified arrests of officials of the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),and civil society leaders accused of instigating the fatal January 2019 protests which saw more than a dozen protesters dead.

On 2nd March 2019, it was reported that MDC MP for Harare West, Joana Mamombe had been arrested and charged with subversion. Her charges are related to statements she made on 14thJanuary 2019 during a press conference in Harare, where she allegedly called on citizens to engage in acts of civil disobedience with the intention to remove a sitting government through unconstitutional means.

A few days later on 5th March, it was reported that another MDC legislator, Member of Parliament for Kuwadzana East, Charlton Hwende, was arrested at the Robert Mugabe International Airport soon after arriving in the country from Namibia. Hwende was said to have fled to Namibia soon after the fatal January 2019 protests.

According to top MDC politician Tendai Biti, at least 12 MDC legislators had been arrested on charges which were both “political and extremely frivolous.”

CSOs suspended

In a separate development on 17th March 2019, the National Association of NGOs (NANGO) expressed their disappointment in the decision by the district administrator of Masvingo District to suspend the activities of two civil society organisations namely ZACH and Cotrad. In a letter issued by the District administration office on 11th March 2019, Cotrad, a non-profit making membership-based association was suspended for allegedly operating illegally. Cotrad however dismissed the allegations, maintaining that the suspension was part of a systematic crackdown on independent voices by the Zanu PF government.

A statement issued by Cotrad read in part;

“It is now a trend that whenever the Zanu PF government is faced with public outcry, it resorts to cracking the whip on NGOs for helping citizens demand what is rightfully theirs. It is clear that government is not opening up for democracy as the new dispensation mantra continues to feed.”

On 20th March however, the High Court overturned the decision by the district administration, and set aside the ban.

ZACH, a youth-oriented organisation had on the other hand been suspended for allegedly meddling in politics and operating without a memorandum of understanding with the local authority. On 13th May 2019, Masvingo District Administration (DA) Office lifted the suspension of Zimbabwe Association of Church Hospitals (ZACH) after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ZACH and the authority to implement HIV/AIDS care treatment and Gender Based Violence (GBV) programs.

Human Rights Defenders arrested

Separately, on 20th May 2019, authorities arrested and detained four human rights defenders at the Robert Mugabe International Airport as they returned to the country. The four - George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura and Nyasha Mpahlo - also had their laptops and cell phones confiscated and were detained incommunicado. Their lawyers were later granted access to them five hours after the detention.

Peaceful Assembly

On 25th February 2019, director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Rashid Mahiya was detained after he presented himself to the police following a relentless search for him by the Zimbabwe Defense Forces. He appeared in court on 26th February to answer to charges of subversion where he was remanded until 12th March 2019. On 7th March 2019 however, Mahiya was released on bail in Harare by High Court Judge Justice Davison Foroma. Mahiya’s charges are related to the January 2019 protests, specifically a meeting he organised in December 2018 which was attended by several non-governmental organisations. Investigators allege that he used the gathering to call on other groups and fellow Zimbabweans to "subvert the elected government."


Journalists harassed and detained

In late February 2019, journalists from, an online news outlet, were briefly detained and forced to surrender their cameras by security personnel at the Harare Central Hospital, while filming a story about how the hospital was refusing to release corpses to bereaved families for burial. The hospital’s reason for the refusal was that they had run out of disposal gloves to conduct postmortems.

The journalists were forced to delete their footage by the hospital’s security guards who threatened to ‘deal with them’ if they did not delete it, and were ordered to leave the hospital premises afterwards.

On 7th June 2019, Nunurai Jena a correspondent with the Voice of America’s Studio 7 was arrested and detained by police in Kadoma. Jena was arrested while taking pictures of a police roadblock which was mounted close to a polling station in Rimuka, as part of his coverage of the pre-polling environment ahead of the following day’s by-election exercise for a new ward Councillor. He was detained for three hours without charges and was only released after his lawyer arrived at the police station.