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Torture in Zimbabwe: Grave concerns over renewed abductions

June 29th, 2020
topic:Human Rights
by:Cyril Zenda
located in:Zimbabwe
tags:Africa, COVID-19, Emmerson Mnangagwa, human rights violation, political violence, press freedom, torture

The alleged abduction and torture – including sexual violation – of three female opposition members by suspected security agents is the latest of a series of unsolved cases in which opponents of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government are exclusively victims.

The government of Zimbabwe is at pains to explain circumstances under which three members of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were allegedly tortured and sexually violated after being “abducted” from police holding cells.

MDC’s Joana Mamombe (26), the country’s youngest Member of Parliament, together with two of her party members, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, were arrested on May 13th for their role in a flash protest that took place in the capital, Harare, when members of the opposition decided to register their displeasure over the state’s failure to provide for the poor during the on-going COVID-19 lockdown, in addition to the widespread politicisation of food aid.

‘Abducted from police cells’

The trio say they were blind-folded and taken from police cells under the pretext that they were being taken to the crime scene for further investigations, only to be driven out of Harare were they were tortured and sexually violated before being dumped near a rural business centre the next day.

From their hospital beds, the women narrated harrowing stories of the torture that they had been subjected to, including being sexually violated, and being made to drink urine and eat human faeces.

Police changed story

When these reports of these grave human rights violations by suspected state security agents emerged, police spokesman, Paul Nyathi, who had confirmed to two newspapers, including to the State-owned Herald, that the three women had been arrested for taking part in the demonstration and were in police custody, turned around to incoherently deny that the trio had been arrested, raising many eyebrows. Instead, he claimed that police were actually looking for the three with the intention of laying criminal charges on them for their role in the illegal protest.
Journalists that organised to interview the women from their hospitals beds were promptly arrested on charges of violating COVID-19 social distancing rules and thrown into prison.

Jeered and accused

Instead of bringing the culprits to book, one government official after the other, from President Mnangagwa himself down the echelons of power, took turns to accuse the women, who were languishing in the Intensive Care Union of a private hospital, of “staging their abduction”. The government ordered that the women be arrested while they were still in hospital. Upon their release three weeks later, they were locked up in prison cells, denied bail and had their passports confiscated to ensure that they could not leave the country to seek medical attention abroad in the event that the lockdown eases.

In addition to charges of violating COVID-19 lockdown regulations, the women are now facing additional charges of “lying”.

Accusation and counter-accusation

After the women had related their ordeal from the hospital where they were being treated, Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said they had made up the story to divert attention from the fact that they broke lockdown rules by participating in the protest. He, together with Homes Affairs minister, Kezembe Kazembe, accused the women to be part of a wider plot to show the country in a bad light.

“How can one falsify such degrees of inhuman and degrading treatment?” asked MDC’s spokesperson, Fadzayi Mahere. “We are asking for the perpetrators to be brought to answer for what they did to these women. All they did was protest against hunger only to be subjected to all this.”

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa accused Mnangagwa of being behind these heinous crimes.

“Those people doing it are doing it on behalf of Mr Mnangagwa,” Chamisa said. “What makes it so obvious is that Mr Mnangagwa has never condemned this and not even a single arrest has been done of all these cases and one wonders why.”

Chorus of condemnation

The abduction and abuse of the women as well as their re-arrest have been roundly condemned by human rights organisations as well as by diplomatic missions.

Zimbabwe Lawyers For Human Rights (ZLHR) condemned the abduction. “ZLHR strongly condemns such wanton disregard of human rights and the constitution. Enforced disappearances, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment can never be justified. All perpetrators must be held accountable,” the human rights watchdog said in a statement.

A team of nine United Nations special rapporteurs who – though they cannot speak for the UN, but report their findings to it – urged the Zimbabwean government to drop the charges against the women, put an end to these cases of abductions and torture in the country, as well as bring perpetrators to justice.

“Targeting peaceful dissidents, including youth leaders, in direct retaliation for the exercise of their freedom of association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, is a serious violation of human rights law,” they said, citing the 49 abduction and torture cases that were reported in Zimbabwe in 2019.

Trend continuing from last year

This is only the latest round of what the opposition and human rights groups allege to be state-sponsored abductions and abuses. Last year, dozens of women were allegedly raped when men in police and military uniforms broke into their homes at night in the aftermath of protests torched off by a steep hike in the price of fuel. Of the about 50 abductions recorded last year, including that of a leader of junior doctors who were on a protracted strike over poor salaries, not a single arrest has been made.

The latest abduction – right from police holding cells – raises questions about President Mnangagwa’s government’s sincerity when its officials professes ignorance about these abductions.

Article written by:
CZ Photo
Cyril Zenda
Author
Zimbabwe
© Bob Koigi
Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova from the Movement for Democratic Change, tortured and sexually violated after being \'abducted\' from police holding cells.
Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova from the Movement for Democratic Change, tortured and sexually violated after being "abducted" from police holding cells.
© ZIGO TV
From their hospital beds, the women narrated harrowing stories of the torture that they had been subjected to, including being sexually violated, and being made to drink urine and eat human faeces.
© Bob Koigi
Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, members of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party of the Zimbabwean government.
Joana Mamombe, Cecilia Chimbiri and Netsai Marova, members of the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party of the Zimbabwean government.