The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) has today called on the government of Zimbabwe to immediately fully re-open the internet, to halt the ongoing use of lethal force against unarmed civilians and to recognize and gaurantee the rights of citizens to peaceful protests as enshrined in the Zimbabwe constitution and international human rights instruments that Zimbabwe is party to.
On 14 January 2019, thousands of Zimbabweans did not report for work and instead took to the streets in various parts of the country to protest against the recent announcement made by President Emmerson Mnangagwa on the fuel price increase, as well as against the general economic mismanagement that has affected the ability of Zimbaweans to enjoy socio-economic rights.
In Harare, several people were shot resulting in some fatalities, and serious injuries. Properties were damaged and hundreds of protesters were arrested. The headquarters of the opposition political party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were also set alight. Several protesters were also injured and arrested in Bulawayo, another major city in Zimbabwe.
Following the protests on 14 January 2019, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported that several members of the Zimbabwe National Army (the military) and the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) randmonly carried out door-to-door raids in high density suburbs through forced entry, by breaking doors and windows. Several residents in those areas were brutally assaulted by members of the military and the ZRP and some detained.
On 15 January 2019, Zimbabwe’s government moved to block citizens’ access to the internet, including social media and emails, as protests continued to spread in the country. Businesses and schools remain shut down in many parts of the country and there continues to be heavy presence of the military and the police in high density suburbs.
“We condemn the excessive use of force to quell protests in Zimbabwe and urge the security forces to exercise restraint” stated Timmothy Mtambo the Deputy Chairperson of the SAHRDN and Executive Director
of Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) in Malawi. “The involvement of the military (in policing) who are torturing and assaulting citizens is unlawful and unjustified in a functional democracy” added Mtambo.
The SAHRDN notes with regret the ready resort by the government of Zimbabwe to use of the army and lethal force against unarmed civilians when faced with protests arising from causes related to the mismanagement and dysfunctionality of the economy.
“Less than a month ago, the Commission of Inquiry into Post Election violence lead by the former President of South Africa, Kgalema Montlanthe found that the police and the military used ‘unjustified and disproportionate’ force to kill 6 people during post-election protests in 2018” said Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, a board member of the SAHRDN and Executive Director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC). “It is therefore quite disconcerting for us that while the soldiers who used lethal force against civilians on 1 August have not been brought to justice, the authorities have again deployed soldiers and armed personnel in civilian clothes to torment unarmed civilians” added Kaajal.
The SAHRDN notes that access to the internet is now an integral part and pre-condition to enjoy the right to freedom of information and expression.
“It is now accepted that access to the internet is a human right” argued Lucia Da Silveira a board member of the SAHRDN and Executive Director of AJPD Angola “ We therefore strongly condemn the shutdown of the internet as it shows that the government may have a sinister motive that it wants to hide from the glare of the international community” added Da Silveira
The SAHRDN therefore calls on the government of Zimbabwe to immediately fully restore internet services to the people of Zimbabwe. The SAHRDN reminds the government of Zimbabwe that internet shutdown violates international law – it not only prevents public debate, but it also deprives Zimbabweans of access to essential services and basic resources.
The SAHRDN urges the government of Zimbabwe to recognize the right to peaceful protests and further urges all Zimbabweans not to resort to vandalism and destruction of property while exercising their constitutional rights. The SAHRDN also urges all stakeholders and citizens to pursue grievances peacefully and through the established legal channels.
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For more information please contact SAHRDN Coordinator Simphiwe Sidu firstname.lastname@example.org or any of the following members Angola: Lúcia Da Silveira <email@example.com>: DRC Pierre Tshibangu <firstname.lastname@example.org>: Lesotho: Lepeli Moeketsi <email@example.com>: Malawi: TIMOTHY MTAMBO <firstname.lastname@example.org>: South Africa Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh <Kaajalr@salc.org.za>: Arnold Tsunga email@example.com: Zimbabwe: Lizwe Jamela <firstname.lastname@example.org>