U.S. warns Zimbabwe after free-speech crackdown

Zimbabwe | Police try to silence protesters calling for government reforms
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 8/31/16, 11:24 am

A Zimbabwean court has charged 68 protesters with public violence after clashes with police during Friday protests. The arrests are the latest violent crackdown by police forces on growing civil unrest even as some Western nations urge the Zimbabwean government to show more regard for human rights.

Police officials on Friday fired tear gas and water cannons at hundreds of demonstrators who had received a court order permitting them to protest. Police arrested 68 people, including a journalist and a pregnant woman. The court denied bail to 16 of the protesters. If convicted, they could all face a fine and up to 10 years in jail.

Lloyd Kuveya, the director of Zimbabwean Human Rights NGO Forum, said such mass arrests do not abide by due process.

“The repression is something we are really concerned about,” Kuveya said. “Some people will be rounded up by association and not necessarily because they committed any offense.”

The protests, which began in July, stemmed from mass frustration with corruption and the failing economy under 92-year-old President Robert Mugabe. About 80 percent of the country’s workforce remains unemployed, and a shortage of dollars has left the economy in a difficult position.

Zimbabwean Pastor Evan Mawarire began the social media movement that inspired the protests. Several opposition parties and civil society groups formed another group called Tajamuka—which means “let’s act”—that also organizes some of the protests.

“I don’t think we can reach December while [Mugabe] is still in office,” Hardlife Mudzingwa, a Tajamuka member, said at a press conference. “We have made a constitutional court application to challenge his capacity [to govern].”

Mudzingwa said the group would continue to organize protests every week beginning next month until Mugabe steps down.

The United States Embassy, Canada, and the European Union last week issued separate statements condemning law enforcement’s illegal arrests and crackdowns on demonstrators. Zimbabwean officials responded by warning the Westerners to stay out of the country’s affairs. Information Minister Christopher Mushohwe said Zimbabwe is an independent nation and it takes no orders from foreign states.

“Beyond diplomatic relations as regulated by the Vienna Conventions, there is nothing else that gives governments of those countries or their emissaries here any special claim to our politics, or a judgmental role on occurrences,” Mushohwe said.

But Zimbabwe’s dire economic situation gives Western countries the power to help effect change in the country, Kuveya explained.

“Zimbabwe’s government is broke, and for them, it’s so important to have good relations with Western countries,” Kuveya said. “If these Western countries are condemning the Zimbabwean government, it means the government will realize it needs to reform.”

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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