By Leopold Munhende
HUMAN rights organisations have reported President Emmerson Mnangagwa to the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) for overseeing worsening gross human rights violations in the country.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Southern African, and the Human Rights Defenders Network have dispatched a letter to UN special rapporteurs and their AU partners.
In their petition, the rights groups raise a red flag over a “disturbing trend in Zimbabwe of weaponising the criminal justice system”.
They also accuse Mnangagwa’s administration, which came into power in November 2017 following a military coup that removed strongman Robert Mugabe from office, of abusing the courts to punish dissenting individuals who are mostly opposition politicians, activists, and journalists.
“We write to call your attention to the disturbing trend in Zimbabwe of weaponising the criminal justice system to stifle dissent and suppress the activities of human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists,” reads the letter.
Among Mnangagwa’s victims according to the report are, journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, MDC Alliance deputy chairperson Job Sikhala, MDC Alliance youth member Makomborero Haruzivishe, and the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) leader Takudzwa Ngadziore.
Haruzivishe is currently serving a 14-month jail term after he was convicted by a Harare magistrate of inciting public violence.
ZLHR spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda and New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Moyo are also on the list of hounded journalists after they were attacked or arrested by law enforcement agents.
Moyo recently spent a month in remand prison before he was released on bail a few weeks ago. He is facing charges of assisting foreign journalists to acquire accreditation with the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) and the matter is still before the courts.
“We write to call your attention to the disturbing trend in Zimbabwe of weaponising the criminal justice system to stifle dissent and suppress the activities of human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists,” reads part of the letter.
“We are particularly concerned that the arrests and charges against individuals are politically motivated and violate their human rights, including their personal liberty and freedom of expression.
“The Zimbabwean government targeted these individuals because they freely express their political opinions and speak publicly against the government and in defence of human rights.
“The charges do not even provide a legal basis justifying the detentions because they are not legitimate under Zimbabwean constitutional law. For instance, charges were preferred against Chin’ono, Sikhala, and Mahere in terms of section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Code, which was declared unconstitutional under the previous Constitution by Zimbabwe’s Constitutional Court.”
Mnangagwa, whose re-engagement agenda has failed to provide the much-needed foreign direct investment to kick start a shaky economy and gain acceptance from the international community, is also accused of using the Covid-19 national lockdown to stifle basic human rights.
The rights organisations also raise questions around a proposed Patriotic Bill that will criminalise speaking negatively on Zimbabwe on international platforms.
“We additionally wish to bring your attention to a new legislation which, if passed, would curtail speech criticising the Government of Zimbabwe when it occurs even outside Zimbabwe’s own borders.
“The so-called ‘Patriotic Bill’ aims to prohibit public messages on international platforms or to foreign governments which the Zimbabwe government deem harmful to its image, and if passed would be another vehicle to target dissidents, human rights defenders, and journalists. Intervention is needed to remind Zimbabwe of its obligations under international law.
“In light of the foregoing violations and the worrying trend they represent of abuse of the criminal justice system to stifle dissent, we respectfully urge your mandates to publicly intervene and urge the Government of Zimbabwe to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression and liberty.”
The letter was also copied to Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the United States Ammon Mutembwa.