STATE security agents deployed to enforce the 21-day national lockdown to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus have been accused of terrorising residents in several towns and cities, with some of the victims left seriously injured.
BY NHAU MANGIRAZI/DESMOND CHINGARANDE/MOSES MATENGA
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum director Blessing Gorejena yesterday said her organisation had documented 51 assault cases involving security agents, with most of the cases recorded in urban areas.
“Besides what we have documented through our structures, several cases are going unreported although we are working round the clock to help victims suffering from human rights violations by mainly State actors,” Gorejena said.
The lockdown became effective last Monday, before reports of police and army brutality emerged from different parts of the country, while videos of members of the uniformed forces “punishing” lockdown offenders went viral.
But police yesterday challenged the assault victims to report to their nearest police stations, while the Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) dismissed the reports as false.
On Monday, soldiers reportedly violently dispersed people at Chigovanyika Business Centre in St Mary’s, Chitungwiza, and in Kuwadzana 4, a few hours before President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s convoy passed through the busy shopping centres.
Later at night, the soldiers are said to have bashed the residents for booing Mnangagwa earlier in the day.
In Karoi and Kariba, police and the army reportedly harassed residents, leaving some nursing injuries.
A 79-year-old Kariba resident, Homani Matamba, claims he was assaulted by police officers while seated at home with his two sons.
“I was seated outside around 8pm when I was assaulted by the police, who accused us of not staying indoors. When they hit me, I passed out and don’t remember how I fell after they hit me all over the body and face. I was only attended to by my wife after the police had left,” he said.
Lucia Masvondo (26) from Chikangwe high-density suburb, Karoi, said police beat her up and unleashed a dog on her after finding her preparing supper using firewood inside her yard.
“I am worried that this lockdown is forcing us to be indoors at 8pm. Are we not allowed to prepare supper? Is it what the President has told these officers?” she asked.
Another resident Kemptson Guvheya (46) was assaulted as he was seeing off his brother.
Human rights lawyer Jeremiah Bamu said: “A lockdown is not a declaration of a state of emergency. People still have their rights and members of the security services have an obligation to respect, protect and promote these rights. Anyone whose rights have been violated has recourse in terms of the Constitution and law. They need to consult their lawyers on the available remedies they may have at law.”
Contacted for comment, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi urged the assault victims to report to their nearest police stations.
“We urge those being abused by the police officers enforcing lockdown to report to their nearest police stations for investigations to be instituted. We are seeing some of these issues on social media, but when we try to investigate them, we find nothing on the ground,” Nyathi said.
ZNA spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Alphios Makotore yesterday said the allegations of police and army brutality were false.
“The issues you have raised with reference to the allegations against the Zimbabwe National Army members, who are assisting the Zimbabwe Republic Police in enforcing the lockdown, are not true. On the contrary and as a matter of fact, the broad spectrum of our citizens are complying with the lockdown without any adverse reports coming from either other security forces, government and community leaders involved in the national effort to curb the pandemic,” he said in a written response.
“Our advice is that anyone who claims to be a victim must promptly report to the nearest Zimbabwe Republic Police or the Zimbabwe National Army camps. It is futile to raise such serious allegations in the social media and/or media houses without reporting them to the relevant authorities.”