Zimbabwean police arrest and assault opposition demonstrators

Police assaulted several supporters of Zimbabwe’s political opposition en route to a rally outside Harare city centre on Wednesday. Police used teargas against the demonstrators who were travelling from the city centre to the venue for the rally, organised by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).  

The MDC rally at Glamis Stadium had been authorised by the Magistrates Court. It has been reported that between 1,000 and 3,000 MDC supporters attended the rally.

The Herald, the government’s official mouthpiece, quoted police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena confirming the arrest of fifteen people. These include the MDC’s organising secretary, Elias Mudzuri, two of his bodyguards and twelve others. Mudzuri, his bodyguards and three bystanders were later released.

Morgan Tsvangirai, a leader of one of the MDC factions, had earlier been taken from his home by officers from the notorious Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. He was detained at Harare Central police station at approximately 4.00am for about four hours and then released without charge. Two other MDC officials, Ian Makone and Denis Murira, were also arrested and released.

Police announced that the planned demonstration had been banned on Monday (21 January), despite the fact that they had approved it two weeks ago. The MDC then appealed the ban and the Magistrates Court ruled on Wednesday that, while MDC supporters could not march through Harare, they could hold a rally in Glamis Stadium.

However, as protestors walked to the stadium, reports indicate that they were subjected to violent police intimidation – police fired tear gas, assaulted and arrested people heading to the venue. This was despite an order from the Magistrates Court that “(police) should not interfere with the gathering through prohibiting it, stopping it, blocking it or doing any act calculated to prevent the gathering from proceeding”.

Amnesty International is deeply concerned at the continued harassment and intimidation of MDC leaders by the Zimbabwean government. In March 2007, Tsvangirai and about 50 other MDC and civil society leaders were arrested and severely beaten. Some were tortured.

Police repeatedly arrest and beat human rights defenders and MDC activists engaging in peaceful protest. Detainees are then often ill-treated and denied access to lawyers, food and medicine.

The Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police has been particularly brutal in its treatment of MDC members and civil society activists who are critical of government policies. Amnesty International has corroborated evidence of torture and ill-treatment of activists while in police custody by officers from the Law and Order section.

Police in Zimbabwe continue to implement the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) in a partisan manner – allowing the ruling ZANU-PF party members to fully enjoy their right to peaceful assembly and association, while severely restricting activities of the MDC, human rights defenders and perceived opponents of President Robert Mugabe.

“The government must allow any peaceful protests to go ahead, and ensure the safety of all peaceful demonstrators and all people taken into police custody,” said Simeon Mawanza, researcher on Zimbabwe.