Harare — A crackdown following the establishment of the Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation in Zimbabwe has driven further a wedge between the administration of President Robert Mugabe and his critics, among them veterans of the liberation war and human rights advocates.
The relations have hit a new low with the arrest of an American woman for allegedly denigrating Mugabe amid fears the clampdown will be intensified ahead of elections set for next year and the rising tensions afflicting the factionalised ruling Zanu-PF.
On Friday, the partisan Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) arrested American Martha O'Donovan (25) whose laptop computer was confiscated after she "undermined the authority of or insulting" Mugabe through a message she is believed to have posted on social media. She is alleged to have posted a tweet during a recent festival, referred to "a certain goblin, whose wife and step sons imported a Rolls Royce vehicle," referring to Mugabe.
Donovan becomes the first person to be arrested and charged following the recent establishment of the Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation Ministry. Through her tweets, she is accused of attempting to overthrow Mugabe's government by "systematically seeking to incite political unrest."
"We are being led by a selfish sick man," she twitted in a post featuring a picture illustration of the Zanu-PF party leader with a catheter. This has triggered anger among a section of the veterans on the 1970s struggle that freed the Southern African country from British colonial rule.
"This ministry (Cyber Security and Mitigation) has been created to muzzle freedom of expression by citizens. It has to be resisted by any means necessary," said a member of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association.
"The government failed to deliver the promised 2 million jobs as it promised in 2013 and is now turning against citizens, thus failing to fulfill the commitment made to civilians," the official added.
He added: "We went to war to fight these kind of injustices being unleashed against citizens by own government. We don't condone suppression by black, white or any creed."
Another former freedom fighter from Harare's oldest townships of Mbare said: "They (Zanu-PF) stole previous elections without repercussions. With the advent of social media, they are scared of being exposed hence they are unleashing cruelty and heavy handedness to citizens."
Already President Mugabe and a group of former freedom fighters aligned to chairman Christopher Mutsvangwa are calling for Mugabe to step down and pave way for his deputy, Emmerson Mnangwagwa. But Mugabe prefers his wife Grace to succeed him ahead of his deputy.
Relations between Mugabe and the war veterans have been frosty lately after the liberation fighters expressed opposition to Mugabe's continued stay in power and his choice as candidate for Zanu-PF in 2018. Activist Nisbet-Taurai Mugwagwa told CAJ News in Houghton, also in Harare, said the government was creating "stupid and dictatorial laws" to silence genuine concerns from citizens.
The Ministry of Cyber Security, Threat Detection and Mitigation was introduced in October during a cabinet reshuffle by Mugabe. Patrick Chinamasa heads the ministry, apparently after his demotion from the finance ministry.
"The creation of the ministry will not help as long as a 93-year old (Mugabe), who has run out of ideas, surrounds himself with security forces and intelligence operatives," Mugwagwa said. "Instead of hearing people's concerns over cash shortages, unemployment,abject poverty, closure of companies, controversial policies, hospitals without drugs, rampant corruption in government corridors and looting of diamonds, the same government is reacting by arresting innocent citizens. This is unacceptable."
Efforts to obtain comment from Chinamasa proved futile. Text messages were sent to Chinamasa but he could not respond.
The legal fraternity denounced the arrest of Donovan, who works for the Magamba TV in the capital. The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights has been making frantic efforts to secure Donovans' freedom. This came after Harare Magistrate, Nomsa Sabarauta, dismissed an application filed by O'Donovan challenging the legality of her arrest. She has been remanded in custody to Wednesday.
Obey Shava of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights is representing Donovan. "The reported offensive and insulting tweet does not make any mention of the President's name," Shava said. Meanwhile, afraid of falling prey to the newly-established cyber crime ministry, Zimbabweans, whose social media is now being monitored by government, had resorted to using false names to register emails and social networking accounts. - CAJ News