HARARE – Human rights defenders yesterday called on Zimbabwe’s new Emmerson Mnangagwa-led government to release political prisoners, respect freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
This comes after Robert Mugabe, who had led Zimbabwe as president from 1987, stepped down on Tuesday under pressure from military generals who seized power as the ruling party turned its back on him after unprecedented street protests calling for the end to his rule.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) entreated the government to release the political prisoners, including Finance minister Ignatius Chombo and Zanu PF Youth League secretary Kudzanai Chipanga, who are in pre-trial detention.
Major General Sibusiso Moyo on November 15 said their so-called Operation Restore Legacy was targeting “criminals” around Mugabe.
Rights lawyers said the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) needed to remember that it had obligation to represent the constitutional guarantees of the rule of law.
The ZDF has not commented on the detainees, who are being held incommunicado without legal representation.
“In the event that any such arrests have indeed been made, ZLHR hereby reminds the ZDF of their obligation to ensure full compliance with the constitutional guarantees protecting human rights and the rule of law,” the rights lawyers said in a statement yesterday.
“We draw their attention, in particular to section 50 of the Constitution which explicitly provides for the pre-trial rights of any persons who have been arrested on allegations of committing an offence.
“Section 53 of the Constitution also guarantees freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The human rights lawyers said there was growing apprehension and concern over the reports of the detention, with no update on the status of the people and when they will appear before the courts.
“In the circumstances, ZLHR therefore urges the ZDF to follow the due process of the law; to guarantee protection of all pre-trial rights and safety of any detainees and to grant them immediate and unequivocal access to their lawyers and family members and medical practitioners of choice where necessary; to prevent any incidents of torture, or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; to prevent the occurrence of any enforced disappearances or incommunicado detention,” the lawyers said.
The lawyers said Zimbabwe was a State party to several human rights instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in particular Article 6 which provides for the right to personal liberty and protection from arbitrary arrest and which states that every individual shall have the right to liberty and to the security of his person.
“The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa elaborate on the rights of those arrested and detained.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides in Article 9 that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile as well as Article 9 and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the right to liberty,” the statement further reads.