Zimbabwean authorities killed at least a dozen people and arrested more than 600 others—including a well-known activist pastor—in violent protests over high gas prices set by government officials trying to control the nation’s crumbling economy.
State Security Minister Owen Ncube confirmed the arrests in a broadcast statement, saying at least half of the detainees had appeared in court. Trade and civil unions continued to call for strikes, and the government imposed an internet shutdown and blocked social media sites—a move Zimbabwe’s High Court declared illegal Monday.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa left the country on an international tour as the protests broke out over a major fuel price hike that took effect Jan. 13. He cut short his trip and returned late Monday to address the crisis, which he said was made worse by security forces’ unacceptable violence against protesters.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said authorities shot at least 78 people and subjected more than 240 others to torture and assault. Authorities also detained Pastor Evan Mwarire, who is known for spurring nationwide protests in 2016 against longtime former President Robert Mugabe. Mwarire faces 20 years in prison if convicted of charges of subversion and civil disobedience on social media.
“We thought we had a new country and a new way of doing things,” Mwarire told reporters on Thursday. “None of what I am being accused of is what I have done at all.”
The number of deaths and injuries reported in the crackdown on protests is likely just a fraction of the actual toll, Norman Matara with the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told reporters Tuesday.
Demonstrations began after the government more than doubled fuel prices on Jan. 13, increasing the cost of diesel fuel from $1.36 a liter to $3.11 and the price of gasoline from $1.24 a liter to $3.31. Zimbabwe ranks the highest in the world for fuel costs.
Zimbabweans welcomed Mnangagwa as a replacement for Mugabe in 2017. The new leader touted his country was “open for business,” but Zimbabwe has continued to battle rising prices and a shortage of hard currency.
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said the demonstrations amount to terrorism. She accused the opposition party of staging “well-coordinated” strikes.
Last week’s trip took Mnangagwa to Russia, where he sought international investments and loans. He left former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga in charge in his absence. In a tweet Sunday, the president said he would skip the World Economic Forum in Switzerland this week, stating his first priority “is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable, and working again.” —Onize Ohikere