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Zimbabwe crushing dissenting voices, say human rights lawyers

Zimbabwe's government is cracking down on people carrying the national flag in public.
Zimbabwe's government is cracking down on people carrying the national flag in public.
Image: 123RF / Natanael Alfredo Nemanita Ginting

From arresting a person carrying the national flag in public to forcing another to drink urine, the regime in Zimbabwe has reactivated its authoritarian systems to crush dissenting voices.

Methembe Msipha of Bulawayo was arrested for carrying the national flag in public a day before the protests planned for July 31. The last time this happened was during former president Robert Mugabe’s rule in 2016 when his eventual successor through a coup,  Emmerson Mnangagwa, was his deputy.

Back then, the Zimbabwean flag had become a symbol of protest because of the #Thisflag Movement started by Pastor Evan Mawarire. At the time the government warned that no-one should use the flag without state permission.

“The message is loud and clear. Make people fear government and tyrannise lives,” said a vendor, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said “a simple statement now requires protection in case it is read by the wrong people”.

“They will come get me at home and no-one will tweet or cry about it because I'm nobody,” he said, indicating that fear was one reason people opted to stay home instead of taking to the streets on July 31.

Many arrests and abductions have been made public by ordinary Zimbabweans. The case of 22-year-old media student Tawanda Muchehiwa is an example. 

Muchehiwa’s family led a spirited appeal on Twitter for him to be found after his abduction, and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) demanded police release him within 72 hours. He was later found badly beaten and dumped.

Traumatised, he told TimesLIVE about being made to drink his own urine, torture and beatings. He fears his internal organs have been damaged.

Pro-state supporters feel the July 31 demonstrations failed, but the opposition believe the government's repressive methods came out in the open for the world to see, which is a victory.

The arrest of award-winning author Tsitsi Dangarembga and MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere drew global attention.

After their release on bail, Dangarembga tweeted: “Friends, thank you for your solidarity. Everyone who spread the news of my and Julie Barnes' arrest contributed to our safety and highlighted the ongoing erosion of civil liberties and clampdown on the nation in Zimbabwe. Let’s keep acting for reform in #Zimbabwe. It's ours too.”

Human Rights Watch said the government in Zimbabwe was using section 22 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act on “subverting a constitutional government” to prosecute any form of opposition.    



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