Zimbabwean authorities recently seized a prominent activist and opposition legislator Joana Mamombe from her hospital bed and detained her at the country’s maximum security prison, against the advice of doctors who had ordered that she see a specialist for an unknown ailment.
Mamombe has been in remand prison since mid-March on charges of violating Covid-19 containment measures. Mamombe, who denies the charge, is jointly charged with a member of her party’s youth wing, Cecilia Chimbiri. The duo, including another MDC activist Netsai Marova – who is not in prison – have pending cases before the courts including a charge of faking abduction and torture as well as another one of violating Covid-19 regulations after they allegedly participated in an MDC Alliance Youth Assembly demonstration in the Warren Park suburb of Harare last year
With the latest African Commission on Human and Peoples’ rights 68th Ordinary Session that started on 14 April to 4 May 2021, Zimbabwe Economic and Democratic Freedom Party (ZEDFP) wishes to highlight the continued harassment and persecution of human rights defenders in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013, including a comprehensive Bill of Rights with specific provisions promoting and protecting the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Although Zimbabwe has ratified both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women, the country still faces enormous challenges in guaranteeing the protected rights enshrined in these instruments, furthermore, Zimbabwe is yet to ratify the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
In May 2020, three opposition party youth leaders, Joana Mamombe (MP for Harare West), Cecilia Chimbiri (MDC Alliance Youth Assembly Vice-Chair) and Netsai Marova (Deputy Organising Secretary for Youth), were arrested and charged with falsifying their abduction and torture at the hands of suspected state security agents.
Instead of investigating allegations of torture and abduction, the State persecuted the women for exercising their constitutional rights. Since May 2020, the three women have been charged with subverting the constitutional government, contravening the lockdown regulations, publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the State and undermining police authority. In a recent decision by the High Court, two of the three women were denied bail for the charge of contravening lockdown regulations. These lockdown regulations are themselves disproportionate, including punishing the publication of false news with up to 20 years’ imprisonment. They were charged after making a press statement related to the arrest and detention of Makomborero Haruzivishe and alleged police brutality, and calling for the resignation of the Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Republic Police. These arrests create an environment of fear that aims to deter young women from criticising the government and brings into question the independence of the judiciary.
The MDC Alliance through national deputy spokesperson, Clifford Hlatshwayo also condemned Mamombe’s recent seizure from the hospital
“It’s heartless, cruel and not necessary. What is happening is diabolic and uncalled for; it is clear that [the governing] Zanu-PF [party] is the one that is giving instructions to the security officers, it is clear that Zanu-PF is abusing state institutions,” said Hlatshwayo.
However, Zanu-PF national spokesperson Simon Khaya-Moyo distanced his party from what happened to Mamombe. “We are a people’s party; we have nothing to do with what happened to that lady. What’s her name again? We are the party in government and we have serious issues to deal with,” said Moyo.
Despite Zanu PF distancing itself from the issues at hand, the state has further arrested several people on charges of undermining the authority or insulting the President. On 8 January 2021, the journalist Hopewell Chin’ono was arrested and charged with “communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state” in contravention of section 31(a)(iii) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. He was subsequently remanded in custody and denied bail. Job Sikhala, Chin’ono’s defence lawyer, was arrested on 9 January 2021 and charged with the same offence. He was remanded in custody and denied bail. Fadzayi Mahere was arrested on 11 January 2021 for the same offence and was granted bail after spending a week in remand prison.
The prosecutions and detentions are more egregious since the offence with which they are charged was struck down as inconsistent with the Constitution by the Supreme Court on 30 October 2013, in the case of Chimakure and Another v Attorney General. Subsequently, in July 2014, the Constitutional Court confirmed the Supreme Court order and restated that section 31(a)(iii) is unconstitutional and therefore void. Chin’ono’s arrest in January was his third arrest in six months after his initial arrest in July 2020 for allegedly inciting Zimbabweans to revolt against the government and later in November 2020 for allegedly defeating or obstructing the course of justice. Although Hopewell and Job were initially denied bail, they were eventually granted bail on appeal.
ZEDFP would like to commend the African Commission’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted in November 2019 (the Declaration), which specifically calls on States to repeal laws that criminalise sedition, insult and publication of false news. The Declaration further calls on States to prevent attacks against human rights defenders, including kidnapping, torture, intimidation and arbitrary arrest and detention, and to prosecute perpetrators of such attacks.
ZEDFP calls upon the Government of Zimbabwe to respect citizens’ rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the media and to implement the recommendations as stipulated in the Declaration. We further call on the State to uphold the rule of law, investigate the allegations of brutality against human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists, and refrain from using public health laws and unconstitutional offences to persecute persons critical of the State.
*Edith Chibhamu is business woman, human rights defender and aspiring president of ZEDFP. She can be contacted on Instagram: official_queendee