Zimbabwe: Authorities must act against attackers of pro-democracy activists

Zimbabwean authorities should immediately begin a thorough and impartial investigation into the abduction and beating of pro-democracy and rights activists on 2 December 2014, and bring suspected perpetrators to justice, Amnesty International, said today. 

Three members of the pro-democracy activist group Occupy Africa Unity Square were abducted and severely assaulted by suspected ZANU-PF supporters yesterday in Harare while engaging in a peaceful protest. 

The activists sustained injuries and were later handed to the Zimbabwean police by their abductors. They were subsequently released by police without charge and admitted to hospital where they are currently receiving treatment.

“It is worrying that people exercising their constitutionally and internationally guaranteed freedom of assembly can be so brutally attacked in broad day light by known people and police let the perpetrators escape justice. Such conduct by police is deplorable and needs to come to an end,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty international’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

The three activists, Itai Dzamara, Jerry Mugweni and Allan Chinewaita, were abducted yesterday by men who intercepted the march just before 3pm along Kwame Nkrumah Avenue in Central Harare.  

The abductors arrived in three private cars and bundled the activists into the vehicles.  Other members of the protest group managed to escape. The abductors took the men to the ZANU-PF provincial office along Forth Street. They severely assaulted the men with an arsenal of objects, including metal rods.

The abductors then took away the activists possessions including two mobile phones and cash and later handed them to the police at Harare Central Police Station. The activists were later released without charge. The perpetrators have not yet been arrested.

“We are concerned about reports that the three activists were handed to police at Harare Central Police station by the abductors who were allowed to leave without being interrogated or arrested. Such conduct by the police perpetuates a culture of impunity which fuels further human rights abuses,” said Deprose Muchena.

The abduction and beating of the “Occupy Africa Unity Square” activists took place on the first day of the ruling ZANU-PF party congress which opened in Harare yesterday with some 12,500 party supporters expected to attend.

Recent Attacks

The attack on the group is not an isolated incident. Activists have endured a series of attacks and arrests mainly by the Zimbabwe Republic Police. 

On 26 November 2014, four members of the Occupy Africa Unity Square, Tichaona Danho, Charles Nyoni, Terry Manzini and Shungu Mutize were arrested and detained after submitting a petition to the Speaker of Parliament and staging a peaceful protest in the speaker’s gallery in parliament in Harare. 

The four men were severely beaten both in detention at parliament and while in custody at Harare Central Police Station. At the police station they were ordered to remove their clothes and only to remain in their underwear.

Three intelligence officers took turns to lash them with a whip and rubber pipes. The four were then ordered to beat each other.  Their interrogators demanded to know the group’s mission and demanded that they quit protesting against President Mugabe.  The men were released without charge after about six hours.

Efforts by human rights lawyers to represent the four men were frustrated by police officials who denied holding the men.  At about 22.30hrs they were ordered to put their clothes on and were released after being told not to inform anyone about their detention.

On 6 November 2014 the leader of the group, Itai Dzamara, was brutally assaulted by anti-riot police while engaging in peaceful protest.  He was left unconscious and was hospitalised. While in hospital Dzamara collapsed and had to be resuscitated and kept in the intensive care unit.

On the same day Kennedy Masiye, from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, who had responded to a call by the activist, was also beaten by the anti-riot police after identifying himself as Itai Dzamara’s lawyer. Police threw away the lawyer’s practicing certificate and assaulted him. He suffered a broken arm and was also hospitalised.

“It is disturbing that the Zimbabwe Republic Police appear to be unwilling or unable to act against perpetrators of human rights abuses linked to the ruling party. Police must ensure that the rights of everyone, including the right to peaceful protest, are fully and effectively protected,” said Deprose Muchena. 

Amnesty International also calls on the authorities to investigate seriously and hold accountable those responsible for the attacks and other human rights abuses perpetrated by the members of the ruling party.

The government should make public the results of the investigation into the abduction and beating.