Zimbabwe’s commitments to respecting and upholding rights are under scrutiny as critics of the government are increasingly abducted and tortured. Such practices were common during the reign of Robert Mugabe.
The 37-year-old rights activist Tatenda Mombeyarara breathes heavily as he struggles to walk on crutches. He is recovering after surgery on his broken left ankle and index finger. He was abducted and tortured on the night of August 13 by assailants who accused him of plotting to overthrow Zimbabwe’s government.
“I had just fallen asleep when I heard a loud noise on my window,” Mombeyarara told DW. “Several voices were shouting: ‘Police! Police! Open or we will break this down!’ So, the moment I saw the masks, I knew it was too late.”
Upon their return from the Maldives to Zimbabwe in May after a workshop on civic engagement, Mombeyarara and six colleagues from a citizens movement were arrested and charged with subversion. He said he now lived in fear. “I feel besieged after this ordeal,” he said. “I don’t even feel free to walk the streets of Harare.” His fear is not because he has done anything wrong, he said.
“When you are under the care of a government and you feel attacked by the same government,” Mombeyerara said, “it is a nightmare, it’s a bad feeling.”
Mugabe’s tactics resurface
State security agencies are suspected to have been involved in incidents that have targeted scores of opposition supporters, rights activists and even comedians who poke fun at political leaders. The heavily armed agents reportedly raid homes during the night. Such incidents happened during the long rule of Robert Mugabe but are now resurfacing under the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
There is increasing tension between the government and citizens as a result of the poor state of the economy. The cost of living has gone up dramatically in the past year. Inflation is now pegged at over 175%. Zimbabweans have been calling on the government to address the situation, but it appears as if the state is responding by silencing critical voices.
Activists say 26 members of Zimbabwe’s mainstream opposition movements have been abducted and tortured since August 14. However, the government has denied any hand in the brutal torture of critics. Government spokesperson Nick Mangwana told DW that “rogue elements” within state security had abducted people to tarnish the president’s reengagement with the international community.
“Government does not abduct citizens,” Mangwana said. “If anyone is suspected of having committed a crime, government — through its institutions of police — will arrest and put the people before trial, and evidence are adduced against them, and, if convicted, they will serve their penalty.”
‘The primary perpetrator’
Rights lawyers say the government is not doing enough to protect its citizens and investigate cases of torture. “The Zimbabwean state is failing to guarantee the personal security of its citizens,” Doug Coltart, a human rights lawyer and victim of police brutality, told DW. “Section 52 of the constitution guarantees the right of all people to freedom from violence from public or private sources. If anything, all of the evidence points towards the state being the primary perpetrator of the abuses,” Coltart said.
International missions to Zimbabwe have also sharply rebuked the government in light of the increasing attacks on critics. “Going to people in the evening with masks and beating them is absolutely intolerable,” Bishow Parajuli, the UN country coordinator for Zimbabwe, told reporters. “That should not be the right thing to do.”
Parajuli called on leaders to use dialogue as a means of resolving the issues affecting Zimbabwe. “There should be a conversation,” he said. “It is time in the new Zimbabwe to build trust.”
At the beginning of the millennium, rights violations had resulted in the sanctioning of Zimbabwe’s political leaders. The atrocities also led to the isolation of the southern African country from the international community.