By Anna Chibamu
THE European Union (EU) in Zimbabwe has demanded an immediate end to “questionable” pre-trial detention of political opponents, journalists and activists in light of a surge in new Covid-19 cases in the country.
In a statement Wednesday, the EU expressed serious concern over the recent arrests and detention in remand prison of senior MDC Alliance politicians, vice chairperson Job Sikhala and party spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere, including freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono.
“The current pre-trial detentions, delays of proceedings and bail denials without serious charges are questionable, especially in times of #Covid-19. The infection risk in jail is high due to overcrowding and lack of hygiene. We know this because we support prisons through @VSOZimbabwe,” the EU said.
Early this week, when Chin’ono arrived shackled in leg irons at the Harare Magistrates’ Courts, he told fellow journalists gathered of deplorable conditions at the Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison where he is detained at with prison officers and inmates contracting Covid-19 due to overcrowding and unhygienic conditions.
“The prison authorities are violating the court order which says I must be in the truck alone. This shows how disrespectful the government is to World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines,” Chin’ono called out while prison officers pushed him into holding cells.
The current pre-trial detentions, delays of proceedings & bail denials without serious charges are questionable, especially in times of #COVID19. The infection risk in jail is high due to overcrowding & lack of hygiene. We know this because we support prisons through @VSOZimbabwe pic.twitter.com/wvSPPmdZPe
— EU in Zimbabwe 🇪🇺 (@euinzim) January 13, 2021
The Dutch Embassy in Harare, early this week, also protested against the arrests of Chin’ono, Mahere, and Sikhala.
“We are closely following the recent arrests in Zimbabwe which have bearing on: democratic space, justice and impunity, freedom of expression, and fighting corruption. The circumstances around the re-arrest of Chin’ono raise many questions about fairness, equitable application of rule of law and proportionality. We hope that he stays safe.”
The trio was arrested over the past week on charges of peddling falsehoods after a police officer was reported to have struck to death an infant in Harare. They were denied bail and are remand prison.
Meanwhile, a human rights lobby organisation Amnesty International Southern Africa has urged government authorities to drop charges against the two political activists, and journalist and release them immediately and unconditionally.
“Zimbabwean authorities must immediately and unconditionally release these opposition leaders and a journalist and drop the malicious charges against them,” said Amnesty International deputy director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwananyanda.
According to the Amnesty International, the recent arrests of Chin’ono, Sikhala and Mahere are part of a growing crackdown on opposition leaders, human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other critical voices.
“It is consistent with the constant harassment and intimidation that we have seen against anyone who demands respect for human rights, transparency, and accountability in Zimbabwe in the recent past.
“Zimbabwean authorities must stop treating human rights with contempt and start tolerating dissenting views,” added Mwananyanda.