18 January 2019

Zimbabwe: Amid Protests Zimbabwe Orders Second Internet Shutdown

The latest increase has made gasoline in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. Protests have been met with hundreds of arrests and a second shutdown of the internet.

Zimbabwe's largest mobile phone operator Econet Wireless said on Friday it had again been ordered to shut down internet services until further notice, amid ongoing protests over the steep fuel price rises.

"We have ordered the shutdown because we noticed that the protesters were now organizing ... via social media, so our actions are justified," junior information minister Energy Mutodi told dpa. Econet said in a statement: "Our lawyers advised that we are required to comply with the directive pending the court's decision on its legality."

Protests organized via social media began after President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government more than doubled the price of petrol and diesel on Sunday. Mnangagwa announced the increase on the eve of his trip to Switzerland for the World Economic Forum in Davos, leaving hardline former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as acting president.

The UN human rights office issued a statement on Friday calling on the government to "stop the crackdown against protesters" and denounced the "excessive use of force" including the use of live ammunition.

Second shutdown

A first internet shutdown was ordered on Tuesday and is facing a court challenge by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

Three days of protests were met with a violent response from police and the military. Death tolls have varied but Amnesty International said eight people died and the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said it treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and more than a hundred cases of"assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks."

Pastor and activist Evan Mawarire was one of the 600 people arrested this week. He is due in court on Friday accused of inciting civil disobedience online. If convicted, he faces 20 years in jail.

The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops' Conference issued a statement regretting the government's "intolerant handling of dissent" as well as its failure to halt economic collapse.

The European Union noted the "disproportionate use of force by security personnel" and urged that internet service be restored, in a statement issued late on Thursday.

Mnangagwa is being accused of failing to implement pre-election pledges to kick-start growth and, like former President Robert Mugabe, using the armed forces to crush dissent.

jm/rc (Reuters, AP)

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