21 January 2019

Zimbabwe: Atrocities Escalating Under Internet Shutdown

Harare/Bulawayo — GORY images of serious human rights violations against citizens by Zimbabwe state security forces have emerged, despite attempts to sweep them under the carpet through a government shutdown on internet services during nationwide protests.

Some victims have reportedly been mutilated while others bear broken limbs after the repressive response to the three-day strike prompted by a dramatic increase in the price of fuel.

Soldiers have been accused of breaking into people's homes, beating and arresting occupants. A soldier in Harare reportedly stepped on the hand of a sleeping five-year old boy, breaking his fingers.

The atrocities, in addition to the killings of hordes of people in the aftermath of the demonstrations, are reminiscent of the post-election violence of 2009 when hundreds of citizens, mostly opposition supporters were killed during a military crackdown as the then-president, Robert Mugabe, was defeated.

Current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, allegedly presided over the clampdown.

The United Nations (UN) has criticised the manner security forces handled the protests.

"The bottom line is that the use of live ammunition by security forces was excessive," UN human rights office spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasan, said.

"This is not the way to react to expression of economic grievances by the population," the envoy said.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) confirmed to have treated hordes of wounded victims, mostly having suffered bullet wounds.

An unconfirmed number of dead bodies reportedly remain in various hospitals while others have allegedly been buried before being taken to hospitals amid efforts by government to demean the death toll.

Official figures by government confirm the death of ten people. Over 600 people were arrested and denied bail.

Relatives of deceased people and some whose loved ones are missing are crying out for justice.

"We have lost a brother who was to be the sole bread winner after recently graduating. He was slain in cold blood, paying the price for demanding affordable fuel prices," said Revai Mushunje of Epworth.

The impoverished suburb was among the worst hit by unprecedented protest after Mnangagwa two weeks ago announced an increase of over 150 percent on fuel, to more than $3 per litre (up to R45,80).

Typically, government unleashed soldiers in the streets to back up the feared Support Unit of the police force.

Government ordered a shutdown of internet services.

This past weekend, in a joint press conference, Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) and Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) defended the shutdown of social media and blamed the so-called third force for the violent protests.

Colonel Overson Mugwisi, military director of communications, insisted the joint security operation would continue.

"ZDF and security services remain committed to the provision of safety and security to all members of the public. In the same vein, we want to warn those bent on causing mayhem that the law will be applied without fear or favour," said Col. Mugwisi.

Police spokeswoman, Commissioner Charity Charamba, absolved law enforcers from violations, claiming some civilians clad in military and police uniforms, allegedly seized during protests in Epworth and Chegutu, perpetrated the crimes.

"A case in point is the recent arrest of five armed robbers in Epworth, Harare, on January 14. They were using police and military regalia to commit armed robberies after hiring vehicles from car-rental companies," she said.

Charamba also blamed deserters.

"We are giving an ultimatum to individuals who have retired, deserted and absented themselves without official leave from services to immediately hand over uniforms either to the police or the ZDF," she said.

On Sunday, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) blamed government for implementing policies without consulting citizens.

"It is the view of the commission that most of the austerity measures and decisions are being made with little or no consultation of the relevant stakeholders and citizens and in many instances sound and appear as almost arbitrary. As a result there is no buy in or support for these new policies leading to implementation challenges with some key players and citizens resisting the changes," ZHRC stated.

The Crisis In Zimbabwe Coalition has petitioned the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and African Union (AU) to probe.

Meanwhile, unconfirmed reports suggests President Mnangagwa called off his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to deal with unending threats of shutdown.

Mnangagwa, who was on a week long tour of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia to salvage oil and gas deals was due to attend the World Economic Forum this week as the country burns home due to protests caused by high costs of living.

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