WASHINGTON – Zimbabwean security forces killed at least 10 people last year as President Emmerson Mnangagwa exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to step up human rights violations, deploying agents to abduct and torture critics, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
Police and soldiers also arrested and detained protesters and journalists in an arbitrary manner while violence against women and girls was widespread, the watchdog said in an assessment of human rights covering 149 countries titled 2020/21: The State of the World’s Human Rights.
Those allegedly killed with impunity for breaching coronavirus lockdown regulations, among other reasons, include Bhekani Moyo from Silobela, Levison Moyo and Paul Munakopa, both from Bulawayo, MDC Alliance councilor Lavender Chiwaya, and Mazwi Ndlovu, murdered by suspected Zanu PF supporters in Plumtree for asking why opposition supporters were being denied access to Covid-19 aid.
“The authorities used Covid-19 regulations to justify severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. They deployed security forces to abduct, assault, and torture perceived critics, and opposition members and leaders,” Amnesty charged.
“Security forces frequently used excessive force to prevent or crackdown on peaceful protests and to impose lockdown restrictions, killing at least 10 people.”
The watchdog found that “many were subjected to violence, including a significant number of women. Two sisters, Nokuthula and Ntombizodwa Mpofu, were severely beaten by police on 16 April in Bulawayo when they went out during curfew to buy food for their children.”
It also cited the brazen, caught-on-camera abduction and torture of student Tawanda Muchehiwa, accused of organizing the foiled July 31 protests, and opposition MDC Alliance activists Joanna Mamombe, MP for Harare West, Cecilia Chimbiri, and Netsai Marova, saying the kidnappings were carried out by a security taskforce known as the “Ferret Team.”
The team, which involved personnel from Mnangagwa’s office, also abducted and “sexually assaulted” Noxolo Maphosa to “reveal the whereabouts of her uncle, Josphat Ngulube, an MDC-A member who had been accused of distributing face masks bearing the slogan “#ZanuPFMustGo.”
Amnesty International also accused Mnangagwa’s regime of harassing trade unionists and shutting down press freedom by targeting journalists, among them ZimLive editor Mduduzi Mathuthu and Hopewell Chin’ono.
The United States government, which maintains punitive travel and financial sanctions on Mnangagwa and his acolytes, also issued a similar report last week blasting Zimbabwe for continued human rights violations.
In a 49-page assessment focusing on Zimbabwe, the U.S. cited “significant human rights issues, including unlawful or arbitrary killings of civilians by security forces; torture and arbitrary detention by security forces; cases of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners or detainees and arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy,”
But the government denies the charges, accusing Washington and human rights groups like Amnesty International of working with the opposition to undermine the ruling Zanu PF party’s rule.