Amnesty International has warned that Zimbabwe could be hit by a new wave of political violence, following a spate of attacks on human rights activists by supporters of President Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in the past week.
Three human rights monitors were captured and beaten with logs by Zanu-PF supporters on Sunday, in the latest incident since a process of consultation over a new Zimbabwean constitution began on 16 June.
"This intimidation and harassment of activists undermines Zimbabwe's efforts to form a new constitution with public consultation and it is also a worrying reminder of the organised violence that took place in 2008," said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa director.
Zimbabwe's constitution-making process was part of the agreement signed by President Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in September 2008, following six months of violence that followed the country's disputed presidential election.
Over 300 people were killed, 11,000 were seriously injured and tens of thousands were displaced by the violence.
The consultation process is designed to garner feedback on the constitution through a series of outreach meetings with local communities. Following a long delay due to squabbling within the unity government, the consultation finally began two weeks ago but activists monitoring the process have been targeted.
“All parties in the unity government should respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly and ensure that everybody has unfettered access to outreach consultation meetings on the new constitution” said Erwin van der Borght.
“It is imperative that all parties in the unity government respect and protect these rights and that security agents are non-partisan in their duties.”
Monitors Paul Nechishanu, Artwel Katandika and Shingairayi Garira had been working for the Independent Constitution Monitoring Project, which is jointly run by the NGO groups Zimbabwe Election Support Network, Zimbabwe Peace Project and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.
They were taken by ZANU-PF supporters to a farm in Makonde district (Mashonaland West province) on 27 June and beaten with logs. Garira sustained injuries to his eardrum while Nechishanu and Katandika suffered head injuries.
The beating followed the arrest of another team of monitors - Godfrey Nyarota and Tapiwa Mavherevhedze plus their driver Cornelius Chengu - in Mutare on 24 June.
They were charged with practicing journalism without accreditation and released on $20 bail each. Reports indicate that the police acted at the instigation of a well known ZANU-PF activist and “war veteran”.
Another activist in Mutare, Enddy Ziyera, the provincial coordinator of the independent monitoring project, was detained for several hours and released without charge on 25 June after bringing food for the three activists in detention.
On the same day, in Marondera (Mashonaland East province), three Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) activists were seized by unidentified state security agents. They were later found detained at Marondera police station and are yet to be charged.
President Mugabe signed a power-sharing agreement with the leaders of the two Movement for Democratic Change formations on 15 September 2008 in an attempt to resolve the political crisis that had developed since 2000.
Violence in the country escalated sharply in the six months prior to the unity deal, with a series of politically-motivated human rights violations against real and perceived opponents of President Mugabe.
For the past six months, Amnesty International has received reports of intimidation in rural areas with villagers threatened with violence if they do not support ZANU-PF’s position on the new constitution. The current consultation process is supposed to run for 65 days.