January 22, 2009

V. Ongoing Violations of Civil and Political Rights

Zimbabwe's September 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA) has not brought an end to ZANU-PF's attacks on its opponents and critics. The party continues to use state institutions such as the police and the justice system as a weapon against MDC supporters, civil society activists, and human rights defenders.

Enforced Disappearances and Illegal Detentions

Since the end of October 2008, ZANU-PF has used the police and other state agencies to arbitrarily arrest and ''disappear''[73] more than 40 MDC members and human rights activists. The first wave of abductions and "disappearances" took place on October 29 when 15 MDC members, including Violet Mupfuranhehwe and her two-year-old child, were abducted from their homes in Banket, Mashonaland West. The assailants in these pre-dawn raids were 12 armed men in civilian clothing claiming to be members of the Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police Force.[74]

On December 3, Jestina Mukoko, a leading human rights activist and Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) director, was taken from her home in Norton at around 5 a.m. by at least 15 men who identified themselves as working for the Law and Order section of the Zimbabwe Republic Police Force.[75] Zachariah Nkomo, the brother of Harrison Nkomo, a human rights lawyer working for Mukoko's release, was abducted from his home in Rujeko, Masvingo province, around midnight on December 5 by four unidentified men in civilian clothes.[76]

On December 8, two of Mukoko's colleagues, Pascal Gonzo and Broderick Takawira, ZPP's provincial coordinator, were abducted by five unidentified men from the ZPP premises in Harare. The men, in civilian clothes, forced Gonzo and Takawira into one of six Mazda Familia sedans outside.[77] Another MDC activist, Ghandi Mudzingwa was abducted by unidentified men in Harare on the same day.[78] Police initially denied holding Mukoko and her colleagues. However, on December 22, lawyers working on the cases learned that the 32 activists were in various police stations in Harare.[79] They had been held by the security forces in unknown detention centers for between two and eight weeks.

On December 24, Mukoko, Takawira and six MDC members (Pieta Kaseke, Violet Mupfuranhehwe, Fidelis Chiramba, Collen Mutemagau, Concillia Chinanzvavana, and Emmanuel Chinanzvavana) were arraigned before the Harare Magistrate's Court.[80] The eight were accused of contravening section 24(a) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act. The police alleged they had recruited or attempted to recruit individuals for training in banditry, insurgency, sabotage, or terrorism, which can carry a life sentence if convicted.

 Responding to an urgent high court application for the detainees' release, Justice Yunus Omerjee ruled the detention of the six MDC members was unlawful and ordered their immediate release.[81] He also ordered that Mukoko and Takawira be sent to the Avenues Clinic for medical treatment. Police did not comply with any of the orders. The state then successfully appealed to the Supreme Court for the continued detention of the activists, and police moved all eight from Harare remand prison to the notorious Chikurubi maximum security and Chikurubi female prisons. This included Mupfuranhehwe and her infant son.[82] 

Mukoko told her lawyers that, during her 19-day detention, CIO agents and police officers repeatedly beat her on the soles of her feet with rubber truncheons, forced her to kneel on gravel for hours under interrogation, and threatened her life. She said she was forced to "confess" on camera about her alleged role in recruiting people to overthrow the government. The other activists charged with Mukoko also allege torture during their detention.[83]

Following Mukoko's appearance in court, 11 other MDC members and civil society activists were arraigned on various charges, including banditry and recruiting people to overthrow the government. The police also transferred them to Chikurubi maximum security and Chikurubi female prisons.[84]

On January 7, seven MDC members were officially charged with bombing police stations, railway lines, and other centers and engaging in acts of banditry, insurgency, sabotage, or terrorism. The basis of the charges was section 23 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which carries a potential death sentence in the event of conviction. The seven are due back in court on January 23.[85] 

Thirteen additional activists remain in police custody at various police stations in Harare.[86] At the time of writing, apart from the seven who were formally charged, none of the remaining 25 activists in police custody and in prison have been formally charged with any offenses.[87] On January 9, an application by the defense lawyers for removal from remand for those in prison was denied by a magistrate at Harare Magistrate's Court. Those in remand are due to appear in court on January 14.[88] The authorities are refusing to disclose the whereabouts of 11 other MDC members.

Human Rights Watch believes that the charges against the 32 MDC members and human rights activists are politically motivated. The Zimbabwe authorities appear to be using these cases as a pretext to clamp down on the MDC and prevent human rights activists from reporting on human rights abuses. The arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and unlawful detentions, as well as reports of torture and abuse by the Zimbabwe authorities, violate Zimbabwe's obligations under international human rights law.

The reports of abuse and torture of the MDC members and civil society activists to obtain confessions raise deep concerns that any trials against those detained could be fair. International law prohibits the use of evidence obtained through torture and other forms of coercive interrogation.

These enforced disappearances and abductions also violate the terms of the GPA, in which ZANU-PF committed to ending abuses and investigating acts of violence perpetrated by Zimbabwe's security forces and other groups.[89]

Restrictions on Freedom of Association, Assembly, and Expression

The ZANU-PF authorities have not lifted their restrictions on freedom of association, assembly, and expression as required under the GPA. On October 27 police tear-gassed and beat about 150 activists from the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) and the Zimbabwe National Students Union (ZINASU) who were holding a peaceful demonstration in Harare.[90] Forty-two women from WCoZ were arrested. The demonstrators were calling for a resolution to the political impasse between ZANU-PF and the MDC so that the country's leaders could address the severe food shortages in the country. The authorities charged the 42 women with "gathering without police permission" in contravention of the Public Order and Security Act.[91] The women were forced to pay on-the-spot fines and were released later that day. At least 35 activists were treated for injuries at hospitals and clinics in Harare, including five who were admitted to hospitals with more severe injuries. On October 16, Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, leaders of the women's rights organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested in Bulawayo when they tried to lead a peaceful demonstration about the serious food shortages in the country.[92] On October 27, the Bulawayo Magistrate's Court denied the women bail, ruling that it would not be in the "interests of justice." The women remained in custody for three weeks at Mlondlozi Female Prison in Bulawayo before they were released.

[73] An enforced disappearance is detention by authorities who refuse to acknowledge that they are holding the person or to reveal the person's fate or whereabouts, placing that person outside the protection of the law, and is a serious violation of international law.  See International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, G.A. res. 61/177, U.N. Doc. A/RES/61/177 (2006), adopted Dec. 20, 2006.

[74] "Zimbabwe: End Enforced Disappearances," Human Rights Watch news release, December 19, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/12/19/zimbabwe-end-enforced-disappearances

[75] "Zimbabwe: Investigate Whereabouts of Abducted Human Rights Activist," Human Rights Watch news release, December 3, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/12/03/zimbabwe-investigate-whereabouts-abducted-human-rights-activist

[76] "Zimbabwe: International Organizations Call for End to Abductions of Activists," Human Rights Watch news release, December 10, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/12/09/zimbabwe-international-organizations-call-end-abductions-activists

[77] Ibid.

[78] "Zimbabwe: End Enforced Disappearances," Human Rights Watch news release, December 19, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/12/19/zimbabwe-end-enforced-disappearances

[79] Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, statement on abductions, December 24, 2008. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, updates and timelines on abductions, January 6, 2009. On file with Human Rights Watch

[82] Ibid.

[83] Ibid.

[84] Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, updates and timelines on abductions, January 6, 2009. On file with Human Rights Watch.

[85] Ibid. Human Rights Watch opposes the death sentence in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Ibid.

[88] Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with lawyers Otto Saki and Alec Muchadema, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, Harare, January 9, 2009.

[89]See article XVIII (18.5), Agreement between the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations, on resolving the challenges facing Zimbabwe, September 15, http:www.kubatana.net, (accessed January 18, 2009)

[90] "Zimbabwe: End Crackdown on Peaceful Demonstrators," Human Rights Watch news release, October 29, 2008, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2008/10/29/zimbabwe-end-crackdown-peaceful-demonstrators

[91] Ibid

[92] Ibid