JOHANNESBURG: The Southern African Development Community (SADC) should urge Zimbabwean authorities to show restraint and respect of the rule of law in the wake of a violent crackdown on post-election protests.
Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, is calling on SADC to engage Zimbabwe on its response to protesters who express dissatisfaction with the administration of the July 30 general elections.
At least six people were killed and many more injured when security forces used live ammunition against protesters in the capital Harare, as the country awaited the results of the historic vote. Riot police and military in armoured vehicles swept through the streets, targeting bystanders and forcing others to shutter businesses and return home. Several journalists covering the event were intimidated and forced to stop working.
On August 4, riot police dispersed a press conference organised by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the capital, Harare. Before that, police raided MDC headquarters, arresting party members and charging them with inciting and engaging in political violence. Most are currently being held in Harare’s notorious Chikarubi Maximum Security Prison. Security forces have intimidated the political opposition and ordinary citizens, arresting supporters of the MDC. Some have been abducted and others have gone into hiding. The army is also harassing, under the cover of darkness, activists it suspects of leading the organization of protests.
The release of the results of the 30 July elections and the actions of the army and riot police have brought back traumatic memories of decades of repression suffered by Zimbabweans, under the regime of ousted president Robert Mugabe.
“The use of live ammunition against unarmed civilians can never be justified,” said David Kode, CIVICUS Campaigns and Advocacy lead.
“As responsible neighbours and stakeholders of peace in the region, SADC leaders should send a clear message to Zimbabwean authorities to act with integrity and respect the rule of law including exercise of fundamental freedom.”
The 30 July elections were expected to usher in a new era of democratic governance in Zimbabwe after the military coup in November 2017 but the post elections crisis has led to uncertainty and demonstrated that the military continues to cast an ominous shadow over politics. Zimbabwean authorities invoked the restrictive Public Order and Security Act to enable the armed forces intervene.
The right to freedom of expression, association and assembly is enshrined in the Zimbabwean constitution. SADC should call on the government and security forces to exercise restraint and respect these fundamental rights of citizens including the right to assemble peacefully.
CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries around the world, rates the space for civil society in Zimbabwe as “repressed.”