Zimbabwe: Five years on whereabouts of journalist and pro-democracy activist still a mystery

Five years after journalist and pro-democracy activist, Itai Dzamara went missing in Zimbabwe, his whereabouts remains a mystery and his family are stuck in agonizing limbo, Amnesty International said today. Itai Dzamara is a well-known activist and had been a vocal critic of Robert Mugabe before he was abducted from a barbershop on 9 March 2015. He has not been heard from since.

Imagine not being able to tell your children if their father is alive or dead. Someone knows where Itai Dzamara is, but they have chosen to subject his family to five long years of uncertainty
Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for Southern Africa

The organization is in copy of a heart-wrenching letter from Dzamara’s wife Sheffra, in which she appeals to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to help find her husband, and describes the pain of raising her two children alone.

“Imagine not being able to tell your children if their father is alive or dead. Someone knows where Itai Dzamara is, but they have chosen to subject his family to five long years of uncertainty,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.

Today we join Itai’s family in calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to conduct a thorough, independent, effective and transparent investigation into his disappearance
Muleya Mwananyanda

“Today we join Itai’s family in calling on the Zimbabwean authorities to conduct a thorough, independent, effective and transparent investigation into his disappearance. People do not simply vanish into thin air. We need to see an inquiry with findings that are made public, and suspected perpetrators brought to justice, as well as an end to the harassment and intimidation of activists and critics in Zimbabwe.”

Before he disappeared Itai Dzamara had been repeatedly harassed and beaten up by Zimbabwe’s security forces. Amnesty International believes he has been forcibly disappeared as a result of his activism and outspoken criticism of the government.

Itai Dzamara was abducted on 9 March 2015 by five men while he was at a barbers’ shop in Harare’s Glen View suburb. His abductors are said to have accused him of stealing cattle before handcuffing him, forcing him into a white truck with concealed number plates and driving off. He has not been seen since then, and there are fears for his safety.

Itai Dzamara was a well-known activist who had campaigned to improve accountability in Zimbabwe. He had called for former President Robert Mugabe to step down and criticized his handling of Zimbabwe’s economy. Mugabe had been in power for almost four decades, until he was removed from office in 2017 by the ruling ZANU-PF with the help of the army.

Under President Mnangagwa Zimbabwe remains a dangerous place to criticize the government. Security forces routinely use repressive laws such as the Public Order and Security Act, now the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act, to prevent people from carrying out peaceful protests and voicing their criticism.

People do not simply vanish into thin air. We need to see an inquiry with findings that are made public, and suspected perpetrators brought to justice

Government critics have increasingly faced harassment and intimidation under president Mnangagwa’s administration, including being charged with trumped-up treason charges, for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Amnesty International is calling on the government to set up an independent judge-led Commission of Inquiry into the circumstances around the abduction of Itai Dzamara, with powers to subpoena witnesses.

The findings of any inquiry must be made public and those suspected to be responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials. Members of the public with information to contribute to the Commission through submissions must also be allowed to do so.

 

Background

President Mnangagwa was Vice President when he told the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in 2016 that the government was actively pursuing the search for Itai. However, the government has failed to give regular updates on the search efforts for the activist, despite a court order issued in 2016 instructing it to do so.