By Anna Chibamu
AS Zimbabweans celebrate forty-three years of independence from colonial rule, concerns have been raised amid criminalisation of dissent and targeting of political activists and human rights defenders.
In a statement Tuesday, human rights lobby organization, Amnesty International said there has been a worrying trend of a closing civic space in Zimbabwe, with the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly being threatened.
Zimbabwe got its independence on April 18, 1980 after a protracted war against British imperialists where thousands of Zimbabweans lost their lives fighting for freedom.
“Forty-three years after independence, authorities are yet to guarantee in practice the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly which are increasingly being threatened despite being guaranteed under the constitution and international law.
“The right to freedom of peaceful assembly has continuously been violated and undermined with the authorities refusing to give clearance for some of the main opposition party’s rallies, arresting and convicting peaceful protesters and using unnecessary and excessive force to stop protests,” Flavia Mwangovya, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East and Southern Africa said.
Mwangovya said: “As Zimbabwe approaches elections later this year, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly have come under increasing attack.
“Dissenting voices are being criminalised, with some opposition activists put in lengthy pre-trial detentions.”
Amnesty International’s official warned authorities to stop criminalizing dissent and ensure the levelling of the playing field as the country fast approaches the elections.
“The opposition must be free to carry out their campaigns and individuals and groups must be protected from politically motivated violence.
“Authorities must promote, protect and uphold the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as guarantee the socio-economic rights of every Zimbabwean,” added Mwangovya.
Despite independence, protests in Zimbabwe have been effectively banned as demonstrated by the arrest and detention of Job Sikhala and Godfrey Sithole on charges of inciting violence, the arrest of 19 students at the University of Zimbabwe in September 2022 after they embarked on peaceful #FeesMustFall demonstrations.
This is compounded by the conviction of author Tsitsi Dangarembga and Julie Barnes following their peaceful protest, and more recently, of opposition party spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere for “publishing or communicating falsehoods” based on a non-existent law in Zimbabwe.