I. Summary

We cannot have a situation where people decide to sit in places not allowed and when police remove them they say no. We can’t have that. That is a revolt to the system. Some are crying that they were beaten. Yes you will be thoroughly beaten. When the police say move you move. If you don’t move, you invite the police to use force.

—President Robert Mugabe, addressing delegates at the Zimbabwe embassy in Cairo, Egypt, on the arrest, torture and mistreatment of 15 trade union activists in Zimbabwe, September 23, 2006

Violent repression of civil society activists by state authorities in Zimbabwe continues to escalate.  Over the past year the government has reacted to a spate of nationwide protests against its policies on social, economic, and human rights conditions in the country by intensifying its efforts to intimidate, silence, and punish those who expose abuses and exercise their basic rights. 

In the beginning of Zimbabwe’s political crisis, the main perpetrators of violence and intimidation against opposition supporters and civil society activists were war veterans, youth militia, and supporters of the ruling party. In the past three years human rights violations against opposition supporters and civil society activists have increasingly been carried out by uniformed army and police personnel and state security agents. The government has taken no clear action to halt the rising incidence of torture and ill-treatment of activists while in the custody of police or the intelligence services. Recent statements by President Mugabe appear to condone acts of torture and other serious human rights violations.

This report highlights the repressive tactics that the government has used in the past year to suppress the increasing political and economic discontent among the population. The police have arbitrarily arrested hundreds of civil society activists during routine meetings or peaceful demonstrations, often with excessive force, and in some cases subjected those in custody to severe beatings that amounted to torture, and other mistreatment.

Those who try to expose and seek legal redress for such abuses, in particular human rights lawyers and activists, are themselves subjected to intimidation and harassment by the police and intelligence officers.  These acts of intimidation and harassment take many forms, including attacks in the state media by officials, public statements by ministers vilifying the work of civil society organizations; and threatening phone calls and death threats made by unknown persons purporting to speak on behalf of the government.

The authorities in Zimbabwe rarely investigate allegations of torture and other mistreatment. None of the allegations of violence, torture and mistreatment documented in this report have been investigated (although one investigation has been ordered by a judge). President Mugabe’s statements endorsing abusive law enforcement measures can but contribute to entrenching the culture of impunity that currently exists in Zimbabwe.

The Government of Zimbabwe has an obligation to act now and uphold respect for basic freedoms and human rights in Zimbabwe.  Human Rights Watch calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to end the use of arbitrary arrests and unlawful detentions; end the use of excessive force by the police; and immediately investigate all allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Those found responsible for such acts should be brought to justice.  Adequate redress should be provided for the victims of rights abuses.

This report is based on a Human Rights Watch research mission to Harare, Zimbabwe, in September-October 2006. Human Rights Watch interviewed 35 persons including victims of and witnesses to human rights violations, medical experts who treated the victims, lawyers who represented the victims, human rights activists, members of local civil society organizations, student activists, and foreign diplomats. The names of some individuals have been omitted for reasons of security.