As crowds amass outside Harare to begin planned demonstrations against the Zimbabwean government, Amnesty International called on Zimbabwean authorities to ensure that peaceful protestors are allowed to express their opinions freely.
One eyewitness told Amnesty International that he saw police assault Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters who were on their way to the demonstration, and bundle them into a police van.
“The Commissioner-General of Police, Augustine Chihuri, must ensure that officers under his command exercise restraint when dealing with public demonstrations,” said Simeon Mawanza, Amnesty International’s researcher on Zimbabwe, recently returned from the country.
“The fact that there have already been assaults and three arrests – including of a leader of the planned protests — is a worrying sign.”
Morgan Tsvangirai, a leader of one of the MDC factions, was arrested at approximately 4.00 am today at his home by officers from the notorious Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. He was detained for about four hours and then released without charge. Two other MDC officials were also arrested and released.
Police announced that the planned demonstration had been banned on Monday, despite the fact that they approved it two weeks ago.
Latest reports from Harare indicate that the MDC has appealed the ban and the Magistrates Court ruled that while MDC supporters cannot march through Harare, they can hold a rally in Glamis Arena, just outside the city, which is where demonstrators are now amassing.
“We are deeply concerned about the continued harassment and intimidation of MDC leaders by the Zimbabwean government,” said Mawanza. “The government must allow any peaceful protests to go ahead, and ensure the safety of all peaceful demonstrators and all people taken into police custody.”
The last time Tsvangirai and about 50 other MDC and civil society leaders were arrested (11 March 2007) they were severely beaten. Some were tortured.
“Police repeatedly arrest and beat human rights defenders and MDC activists engaging in peaceful protest,” said Mawanza. “Detainees are then often ill-treated and denied access to lawyers, food and medicine. This behaviour must stop.”
Amnesty International also expressed concern that police in Zimbabwe continue to implement the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) in a partisan manner – allowing the ruling ZANU-PF party members to fully enjoy their right to peaceful assembly and association, while severely restricting activities of the MDC, human rights defenders and perceived opponents of President Robert Mugabe.