Voting in Zimbabwe on Friday has been marked by a campaign of state violence and intimidation in the run up to the presidential election. Amnesty International has said that it is deeply disturbed by the campaign that is part of a deliberate strategy by the Zimbabwean government to ensure that Robert Mugabe wins the election.
The decision to hold the vote came despite calls by the international community to postpone the election until the security situation in Zimbabwe had improved. Across Zimbabwe, thousands of suspected supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) have been harassed and intimidated.
“Today’s election is being held against a backdrop of widespread killings, torture and assault of perceived opposition supporters. Zimbabwe has been allowed to operate outside the African Union (AU) and UN human rights framework for far too long,” said Amnesty International.
“It is time for effective African and international solidarity with the victims of human rights violations in Zimbabwe. The people must not be left alone to suffer this ongoing violence.”
Supporters – or perceived supporters – of the MDC have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. The MDC claims that about 2,000 of its members are in custody. Among the political detainees was the party’s Secretary General Mr Tendai Biti, who was released from detention on 26 June after being arrested on 12 June on charges of treason.
Over 80 people have been killed in the post-election violence so far – most of them MDC supporters.
“War veterans” have set up informal “bases” in rural and urban areas where they plan attacks against perceived MDC supporters. They conduct “re-education” sessions that include severely assaulting people suspected to be MDC supporters as a “lesson” to others. Victims include women, children and the elderly.
State security agencies such as the police and army are being used to pursue a partisan agenda – seriously compromising their constitutional responsibility to protect the human rights of all Zimbabweans.
Other perceived opponents of the government have also been targeted, including human rights defenders and lawyers. A number of lawyers have been forced to flee the country out of fear for their lives and the safety of their families.
Human rights defenders, including members of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), have been arbitrarily arrested and denied bail purely for exercising their right to peaceful protest.
“Human rights activists like Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu from WOZA have been languishing in detention since their arrest on 28 May, solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful protest,” said Amnesty International. “Meanwhile, murderers, torturers, and other perpetrators of human rights violations are left at large and given free rein to commit further human rights violations with impunity.”