Prominent Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) politician Roy Bennett was arrested at an airport in Harare on Friday 13 January, by police officers from the Law and Order Section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. He is being held at Mutare Prison.
Amnesty International believes that Roy Bennett was arrested and detained purely as a result of exercising his internationally guaranteed right to freedom of association and is considered to be a prisoner of conscience (POC). The organisation has therefore called for his immediate and unconditional release.
The arrest and detention of Roy Bennett follows the abduction and subsequent arrest and detention of at least 27 other human rights and MDC activists, including Jestina Mukoko and Broderick Takawira, who remain in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison months after they were abducted. The MDC-T claims that about 11 of their members are also missing.
Amnesty International believes that Jestina Mukoko and Broderick Takawira were arrested and detained purely as a result of their legitimate human rights work, and considers them to be POCs. The organisation has repeatedly called for their immediate and unconditional release.
The other detainees detained at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison are also believed to be potential POCs. Amnesty International has called on the Zimbabwean authorities to ensure that all known and unknown political detainees are promptly charged with recognizable crimes in accordance with international fair trial standards, or are released immediately.
Police in Bulawayo also arrested ten activists on 14 February after they participated in a peaceful protest. Seven women from the activist organisation Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) and three men from Radio Dialogue, a non-profit making community radio station, were held at Bulawayo Central police station. One of the women in custody was a breast-feeding mother and was separated from her child.
Lawyers were initially denied access to the detainees. Though all of the detainees had been released by 17 February, Amnesty International believes that all ten activists were arrested for exercising their internationally guaranteed rights to peaceful protest and that they were prisoners of conscience.
Besides violating international human rights law treaties to which Zimbabwe is a state party, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the arrest and detention of human rights defenders and political activists is in breach of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the political parties in September 2008. The GPA explicitly recognises the rights to free political activity, assembly and association.
Following the signing of a power-sharing agreement in September 2008, the Zimbabwean constitution was amended by parliament on 5 February to create way for the establishment of a unity government.
In February, the parties also created the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC), which is responsible for monitoring and implementing the GPA. The JOMIC is composed of four senior members from ZANU-PF and four senior members from each of the two MDC formations. The Committee is co-chaired by people from the each of the parties. As part of its duties, the Committee is bound to receive reports and complaints in respect of any issue related to the implementation, enforcement and execution of the GPA and to consider steps which might need to be taken to ensure its speedy and full implementation.
Picture caption: Jestina Mukoko of the Zimbabwe Peace Project has been detained since she was abducted months ago. Copyright: Zimbabwe Peace Project.
Picture caption: Zimbabwean Prime Minster, Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe at the power sharing signing ceremony in Harare, 15 September 2008. Copyright AP/PA.