Zimbabwe: Abducted pro-democracy activist – no answers one year on
The absolute failure of the police to account for the enforced disappearance of Itai Dzamara, a pro-democracy activist and critic of President Mugabe’s government, highlights the culture of impunity for human rights violations in Zimbabwe, said Amnesty International on the anniversary of his abduction.
Itai Dzamara was disappeared without a trace, leaving his family in agonizing uncertainty about his fate and whereabouts.
“It has been a year since Itai Dzamara was disappeared without a trace, leaving his family in agonizing uncertainty about his fate and whereabouts. This appears to be a well-orchestrated plot to silence a well-known government critic, and is a deeply troubling indictment of the state of freedom of expression in Zimbabwe,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for Southern Africa.
“The authorities must initiate a genuine search for Itai Dzamara’s safe return while establishing a full and impartial judge led commission of inquiry into the circumstances of his disappearance.”
Itai Dzamara, a former journalist, was abducted on 9 March 2015 by five unidentified men while he was at a barbers’ shop in the Glen View suburb of Harare. On Saturday 7 March, before his abduction, he had addressed a rally in the capital where he called for mass action to address the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. Witnesses say that his abductors accused him of stealing cattle before handcuffing him and forcing him into a white truck with concealed number plates and driving off.
Although the men were in plain clothes, Dzamara was well-known to authorities and had previously been abducted, unlawfully detained and severely beaten by state security agents. His family believe he is a victim of enforced disappearance.
The enforced disappearance of government critics is becoming an established pattern in Zimbabwe. In 2008, dozens of opposition and human rights activists were forcibly disappeared for weeks in a crackdown. The state repeatedly denied its involvement, but many activists were later found in state custody, while the fate and whereabouts of others remain unknown.
The authorities must initiate a genuine search for Itai Dzamara’s safe return while establishing a full and impartial judge led commission of inquiry into the circumstances of his disappearance.
Amnesty International is urging Zimbabwe to live up to its constitutional and international law obligations and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. The authorities must urgently implement measures to protect all people from enforced disappearances.
“Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law which the Zimbabwean authorities have an obligation to investigate and prosecute. Itai Dzamara’s family deserves truth and justice,” said Deprose Muchena.
“Those who are found to have been behind his abduction and concealment of his whereabouts must be brought to justice in fair, public proceedings. Impunity must not be allowed to thrive.”
Itai Dzamara is a former journalist and was the leader of the Occupy Africa Unity Square protest group. He had previously submitted a petition to President Mugabe calling on him to resign and pave way for fresh elections, and his family had feared reprisals for months.
After his disappearance, a report was made at Glen Norah Police station in Harare where a case was opened, but a year on there has been no meaningful investigation. Amnesty International has expressed concern at the paucity of detail contained in the reports sent so far by the police to the Registrar of the High Court.
Attempts by members of his family and human rights lawyers to establish Dzamara’s whereabouts have been fruitless, and his wife has told Amnesty International that she fears authorities may target her or her children next.