Johannesburg — Zimbabwe's authorities should immediately release seven activists and drop fabricated charges of seeking to subvert the government.
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, the local group representing the activists, said that state security agents arrested all seven between May 20 and 27, 2019, at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Harare, the capital, on their return from a workshop in the Maldives. The workshop, hosted by the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, focused on peaceful resistance. The charge sheets against the activists specified the meeting and its training in civil disobedience.
"Zimbabwe's government should stop criminalizing peaceful activism," said Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Participating in a training workshop on nonviolent action is not subverting the government."
Those arrested on May 20 were: George Makoni of the Centre for Community Development Trust; Nyasha Frank Mpahlo of Transparency International Zimbabwe; Tatenda Mombeyarara of the Citizens Manifesto; and Gamuchirai Mukura of Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development Trust. The following day the authorities arrested Farirai Gumbonzvanda, a girls' rights activist and community volunteer with the Rozaria Memorial Trust. On May 27, they arrested Stabile Dewa of Women's Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence and Rita Nyampinga of the Female Prisoners Support Trust.
All seven activists have been charged with subversion. They are being held at the Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare pending their application for bail.
Under Section 22 of Zimbabwe's Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, "subversion of a constitutional government" is a treason charge. It carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
Since the beginning of 2019, the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which has promoted a "new dispensation" that respects basic rights, has arrested and prosecuted several peaceful activists on baseless charges.
Activists facing charges of subverting the Mnangagwa government and awaiting trial include Pastor Evan Mawarire of the #ThisFlag movement, and Peter Mutasa and Japhet Moyo, leaders of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, all of whom were arrested in January.
On February 25, Rashid Mahiya, the chairperson of the group Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, was arrested and charged with subverting the government. Mahiya was granted bail on March 7 and is awaiting trial.
Obert Masaraure, the national president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, told Human Rights Watch that armed men abducted him at his home in Harare on January 18 and severely beat him with leather whips. They later handed him over to the Harare Central Police Station, where he was charged with subversion and inciting public violence.
"Zimbabwe authorities should immediately end the arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of activists who are exercising their basic rights and liberties," Mavhinga said. "Repressing peaceful activists severely undermines Zimbabwe's international reengagement efforts."