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Crackdown threatens anti-sanctions crusade

TINASHE MAKICHI/ CHENGETAI ZVAUYA

Scores of people were injured while eight were arrested in Harare yesterday as police moved to disperse opposition MDC supporters that had gathered at the party’s headquarters in the central business district. Those arrested include a 10-month old baby.

They are detained at Harare Central Police Station charged with disorderly conduct in line with Section 41 of the Criminal Law and Codification Act, according to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) spokesperson Kumbirai Mafunda.

Mafunda said ZHLR were battling for the release of the baby and the mother. The supporters had gathered at the party’s headquarters to listen to MDC President Nelson Chamisa’s “Hope of the Nation Address”.

Chamisa was supposed to address supporters at the Africa Unity Square but the programme was banned on the grounds that violence would erupt. The supporters then moved to Morgan Tsvangirai House. A senior police officer was seen telling Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda to inform the supporters that they should disperse as they had blocked Nelson Mandela Avenue. The officer said they should go inside the party’s headquarters for the address. Supporters shouted back, resisting the order on the grounds that they could not all fit inside the building.

Police had to apply force to disperse the crowd. Police spokesperson, Paul Nyathi, however, defended the police’s conduct saying the police were there to maintain law and order.

“MDC notified us yesterday [Tuesday] that they had cancelled their meeting but they went to gather at their offices. So the police had to move in to disperse the crowd as they had started to be violent,” Nyathi said.

But Sibanda, Chamisa’s spokesperson, told Business Times that the continued violation of human rights in the country was disturbing. Sibanda said citizens, who were moving freely, were beaten up by the police.

“This is a blatant violation of human rights. Actually it’s a crime against humanity,” Sibanda said. Western Embassies based in Zimbabwe have since registered their displeasure towards what they term “orchestrated human rights abuse” in the country and “gross violation of basic rights” for citizens.

The demonstration comes a few days after President Emmerson Mnangagwa signed into law the Maintenance of Peace and Order Act which the government said had opened democratic space in Zimbabwe.

European Union Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, noted that this is another case of “excessive use of force” by the police. “It seems to be another case of excessive use of force by police. There are worrying images of people having been badly hurt as a consequence,” Olkkonen said.

The crackdown on MDC supporters comes days after South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor, urged Zimbabwe to address its politics in order to address the economic situation.

“We know there are serious and seemingly intractable political factors that might need attention, in fact, that need attention if solutions are to be effective or implementable,” Pandor said on Monday at a conference on Zimbabwe in Pretoria.

“The political formations in Zimbabwe remain at loggerheads and have apparent deep antipathy towards each other which makes joint decision-making and planning extremely difficult.”

The crackdown on dissent will jeopardise Zimbabwe’s reengagement efforts.

Meanwhile, the State has dropped charges before plea against Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Peter Mutasa and #ThisFlag pastor Evan Mawarire accused of plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration through organising anti-government protests in January.

The State will proceed by issuing summons against Mutasa and Mawarire if it intends to prosecute them.

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