By UK Bureau & Paidashe Mandivengerei in Harare
SENIOR opposition politicians and former cabinet ministers have accused the government of using an “unprecedented and illegal” internet shutdown imposed last week to hide the administration crimes against humanity.
Former education minister and opposition MDC politician David Coltart described the blockade as a “modern-day equivalent of the Nazi book burnings” of the 1930s.
Not even Robert Mugabe ever turned off the internet during his rule,” said Coltart in an article published at the weekend.
Government imposed the internet ban last Tuesday as part of its lethal response to the nationwide protest called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
Although internet access has been restored, popular social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube remain banned.
Rights groups say the government crackdown against protestors has left 12 people dead, dozens injured from gunshots and hundreds in detention.
The ban was imposed because the “regime is fearful that the truth of what has actually happened in Zimbabwe since January 14 will be revealed,” said Coltart.
Commenting on Twitter, exiled former information minister Prof Jonathan Moyo said; “the military and Zanu PF militia used that Internet shutdown along with nightfall to unleash untold horror upon residents of high-density suburbs in all cities across Zimbabwe!
“While Bulawayo and Harare are the most affected, all cities and towns in the country are suffering the same assaults. He said he and his colleagues have been overwhelmed by desperate SoS messages of killings, torture, rape, injuries and abductions.”
Coltart added; “ … appalling things which have happened.
Doctors report people shot with live ammunition. It is thought numerous people have been killed through the use of live ammunition.
“There are reports of men in uniform systematically breaking into houses of innocent people in working-class areas. There are other reports of tear gas being randomly thrown into houses.
“Hundreds of people have been detained. Lawyers attending to them in Harare on Wednesday reported to me that juveniles aged 14 are among those detained.
“They were being held with the adults — some had been held since 14 January, beyond the 48-hour limit for holding a person, as prescribed in the constitution.”
According to Coltart, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was determined to avoid a repeat of what happened with the August 1 post-election protests.
“When innocents were gunned down by the military on the streets of Harare on the 1 August 2018, the regime learnt the lesson that the internet instantly reports the truth and provides damning evidence against the perpetrators.
“They simply cannot allow that to happen again and so they have cut off the internet, or at least the parts of it which can instantly convey images of abuse to the world,” he said.
The human rights lawyer called for international intervention saying, “The world must now act, and act urgently.
“Mnangagwa … must be taken to task … world leaders for the appalling human rights abuses and crimes against humanity being perpetrated against civilians by his regime.”
Prof Moyo also urged the regional SADC organisation and the African Union (AU) to help save lives.
“While SADC and the AU see the situation in Zimbabwe as demos caused by Mnangagwa’s hike of fuel prices, the reality is that the price hike and demos are symptomatic of a constitutional crisis that has become humanitarian.
“Engaging now than later will save lives!”