The Zimbabwean authorities must act swiftly to ensure security forces are held to account for ongoing brutal human rights violations - including torture, rape, beatings and killings of civilians - Amnesty International said today, as the crackdown against protesters in the country continues.
Dozens of civil society leaders, activists, opposition leaders and suspected organisers of the national protests against a massive increase in fuel prices have gone into hiding, fearing for their lives.
At least 12 people have been killed and dozens more injured by the security forces since protests began on 14 January. Up to 700 people, including minors, have been detained after being arrested on trumped-up charges, or brought before courts in hearings that do not meet fair trial standards. Hundreds more have been denied bail.
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southern Africa, said:
"The onslaught by the security forces in Zimbabwe has seen people killed, arbitrarily arrested, abducted, reportedly raped and jailed on suspicion of taking part in the protests. Children as young as 11-years-old have been detained on frivolous charges.
"A Zimbabwe that is prosperous and based on the rule of law will never be built by brutalising dissent.
"The authorities must immediately stop this merciless crackdown on activists, civil society leaders and others who are guilty of nothing more than exercising their right to freedom of expression. The authorities must ensure that those who violated and continue to violate human rights face justice."
Excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests
The Zimbabwean security forces responded to the protests by deploying the military, the police and intelligence agents. Security forces used excessive and lethal force to disperse protesters with tear gas, batons, water cannons and live ammunition.
There have been mass arbitrary arrests and beatings of protesters. Security forces conducted door-to-door searches and arrested those they suspected of organising the 'stay-away' - a period in which people stayed at home and did not report to work in response to a huge hike in fuel prices in the country.
Well-known local pastor and activist, Evan Mawarire, was arrested at his home in Harare in the early hours of 16 January by a dozen police officers armed with AK-47s. Mawarire has been charged with 'subverting a constitutional government' and is being held at Harare Central Remand Prison after being denied bail on 18 January.
Internet shutdown and doctors targeted
A national internet shutdown was sanctioned by the authorities on 15 January, resulting in an information blackout across the country. Internet access has since been sporadic, affecting many people who rely on it for financial transactions, including buying basic goods due to the shortage of cash in the country.
Security forces have also targeted doctors providing much-needed medical treatment to injured people both in hospitals and in prisons, preventing them from doing their work. Three doctors, who are members of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights, were denied access to injured people in police detention and prison. Authorities have accused the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights of supporting the protests by treating the injured.
Background to the protests and national 'stay-away'
On 12 January, President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a fuel price hike, which took effect on 13 January. The prices of both diesel and petrol increased by 150%. In response, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the largest labour organisation in the country, called for a national 'stay-away', beginning on 14 January. The authorities responded with a nationwide crackdown.