Zimbabwean authorities target activists and trade unionists

A Zimbabwean human rights activist was abducted from her home at dawn on Wednesday by a group of armed plain-clothes men who identified themselves as policemen. Jestina Mukoko is the director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP), a local human rights organisation that is involved in monitoring and documenting human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Several trade unionists, including the Secretary General of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe Mr Raymond Majongwe and a journalist working for a South African broadcaster, have also been arrested in Harare today.

“The abduction or arrest of Jestina Mukoko is part of an established pattern of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders by Zimbabwean authorities in an attempt to discourage them from documenting and publicising the violations that are taking place,” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa programme director.

At around 5am local time on Wednesday, a group of at least 12 men stormed Jestina Mukoko’s home in Norton, South of the capital, Harare, and took her by force while still barefoot and dressed in pyjamas. An eyewitness told Amnesty International that the men then drove off in two cars, one of which did not have registration plates.

On Saturday, about six men, believed to be part of the same group, tried to enter her house during her absence after claiming to be workmates, according to the same eyewitness.

“We hold the Zimbabwean authorities responsible for anything that may happen to Jestina Mukoko. She should be released immediately and while in detention the authorities should guarantee her safety and ensure that she has access to a lawyer and family, as well as food, warm clothes and medication,” said Erwin van der Borght.

The arrests coincide with a protest action called for by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) over serious cash shortages against a back drop of daily price increases of basic goods fuelled by hyperinflation.

The ZCTU had encouraged members of the public to demand their money from the banks following daily limits imposed by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ), which was not enough to pay for a single bus journey. Although the RBZ revised the daily withdrawal limits this week, most banks are experiencing cash shortages.

On 1 December, a group of at least 40 soldiers who had failed to withdraw their salaries from banks ran amok in Harare beating up members of the public, looting shops, seizing cash from street money changers and destroying public property. In a statement on Tuesday, the Minister of Defence Mr Sydney Sekeramayi blamed the disturbance on what he termed “unruly elements from the defence forces.”

As the country waits the setting up of a new government, the socio-economic conditions have been deteriorating at unprecedented levels. Zimbabwe’s once envied health infrastructure is in a state of near collapse.

A cholera outbreak that started in August has claimed at least 484 deaths and 11,735 cases as reported by the United Nations. Since November, Zimbabwean doctors and nurses have been on strike over low salaries and poor working conditions.

Amnesty International has expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Zimbabwe. The organization is once again calling on President Mugabe and Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai and other political leaders in Zimbabwe to urgently address the current human rights and humanitarian crisis.