Zimbabwe security forces fatally shot at least five people and wounded 25 others during a crackdown on nationwide protests beginning January 14, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s sudden announcement of a fuel price increase of 150 percent on January 12 led the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions labor movement to call for a three-day national strike, which triggered the protests.
Protesters burned a police station, barricaded roads with large rocks, and looted shops in Harare, Kadoma, and Bulawayo. Government security forces responded with live ammunition, rubber bullets, and teargas, which they fired at the protesters and into people’s homes. Zimbabwe’s State Security Minister announced on January 14 that more than 200 people had been arrested.
“Zimbabwe authorities have a duty to maintain security during protests, but they need to do that without using excessive force,” said Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Those responsible for using unlawful lethal force should be promptly investigated and held accountable.”
In videos and images circulated on social media, a man in civilian clothes but armed with an AK-47 military assault rifle shot at protesters in Harare on January 14. Zimbabwe’s Information Ministry tweeted early on January 15 that the police sought public assistance to identify the man with the assault weapon shown in the video. Witnesses and local activists reported that uniformed members of the security forces fired on protesters in Epworth, Chitungwiza, and Kadoma.
Members of the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told Human Rights Watch by telephone that on January 14, they provided emergency medical services to 25 people with gunshot injuries. They also said that two people in Chitungwiza and three in Kadoma had died from gunshot wounds.
The United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials provide that all security forces shall as far as possible use nonviolent means before resorting to force. Whenever the lawful use of force is unavoidable, the authorities must use restraint and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offense. Law enforcement officials should not use firearms against people except in self-defense or to protect others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights reported that uniformed members of the police and army carried out apparently indiscriminate door-to-door raids in some Harare suburbs on January 14, forcibly entering homes by breaking doors and windows. The authorities then proceeded to assault some occupants and, in some instances, forced residents out of their homes.
Early on January 15, as the second day of protests began, internet service providers, including Econet and TelOne, shut down access to social media and internet. In a telephone interview with ZIMEYE, an online publication, Vice President Gen. Constantino Chiwenga denied that the government had issued a directive to shut down the internet.
But Econet issued a statement on Facebook on January 15, saying that it had shut down the services based on “a written warrant issued by the Minister of State in the office of the President and Cabinet, through the Director General Of The President’s Dept., responsible for National Security.”
Doctors from the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights told Human Rights Watch that shutting down the internet had disrupted their efforts to coordinate much-needed medical assistance for victims of police shootings. Blanket, open-ended shutdowns of the internet violate the right to freely seek, receive, and impart information, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Zimbabwe government should immediately restore internet and social media access,” Mavhinga said. “All Zimbabweans have a right to access information and peacefully express their views.”