Human Rights Watch is seriously concerned by the level of threats and violence against perceived or actual supporters of the opposition, opposition officials, civil society activists, and ordinary Zimbabweans since March 11, 2007. Hundreds of opposition members and supporters, and civil society activists have been arrested, abducted or tortured, and scores have gone into hiding. As the following section will show, these incidents seem to be occurring with the complicity of the government, through acts of police brutality; the lack of police protection for those at risk of abuses, such as independent journalists and lawyers; the governments failure to conduct impartial investigations into abuses; the direct involvement of state agents in abductions and beatings; and the verbal incitement of the perpetrators by members of the government, including some at the highest level.50
The levels of violence around the country have also increased significantly since the aborted prayer meeting on March 11. According to police reports, between March 12 and April 21, there have been at least 11 alleged petrol bomb attacks on police camps, a passenger train and two stores around the country.
The first of the attacks reportedly took place on March 12 when a police camp was bombed in Chitungwiza. No one was injured during the attack.51 On March 14, three police women were severely burned when a petrol bomb was thrown at Marimba police camp in Harare.52 The most recent attack reportedly took place on April 21, when three petrol bombs and a tear gas canister were thrown at a house in a police camp in the suburb of Glen Norah, Harare.53 The motives behind these attacks and the persons responsible remain unclear, but police have blamed the attacks on the MDC.54 The MDC denies the allegations and accuses state agents of staging the attacks to justify a crackdown on the opposition.55
Human Rights Watch opposes the use of violence by all political parties and upholds the responsibility of the government to prosecute those responsible. But, while the petrol bomb attacks may have provided the official justification for the arrests of MDC officials and supporters after March 11, they do not justify the polices subsequent violent and widespread campaign of beatings and repression of civil society activists, opposition members and supporters, and ordinary Zimbabweans in the suburbs of Harare.
Crackdown in Harares high-density communities
The violent arrest and assault of the opposition leadership on March 11 led to further scuffles between police and opposition supporters in several high-density suburbs in Harare, including Highfield and Glenview on March 11.
Following the events of March 11, heavily armed police continued to aggressively patrol the high-density suburbs in Harare South, beating anyone they suspected of supporting the opposition. Some of the victims later identified by Human Rights Watch were entirely unconnected to the opposition.
Witnesses to and victims of this campaign told Human Rights Watch that in apparent retaliation against the reported attacks on their colleagues, police went on a two-week-long violent rampage in areas such as Glenview, Highfield and Mufakose, randomly beating passers-by in the streets, shopping malls, and people in bars and beer halls.56
For example, one man told Human Rights Watch about the abuse he suffered at the hands of between ten and twelve policemen at a bar in Glenview on March 14:
In another case, on March 14, police severely assaulted ten employees of a local store in Mufakose as they closed the store for the night. The local shop manager told Human Rights Watch:
The severe bruises from the beatings were clearly visible to a Human Rights Watch researcher who interviewed the ten employees the following day as they received treatment for their injuries at a medical facility in Harare.
According to other first-hand accounts from victims and witnesses to the campaign, police also went house to house beating people with batons and accusing them of belonging to the opposition. In several cases victims accused the police of stealing their possessions, including cell phones and money.
For example, in the early hours of March 12, four police officers forced their way into the home of a 52-year-old woman and her family, and beat them with batons and rifle butts. The woman was beaten unconscious and sustained serious head injuries and a fractured wrist. She recounted how the police officer told her that she deserved to be beaten because, you are the people who support the opposition. The woman told Human Rights Watch that none of her family had ever been involved in politics.59
Human Rights Watch documented many similar abuses in other high-density suburbs in Harare in March. It appears that anyone remotely connected to the opposition or other forms of activismand even those who were not part of the oppositionran the risk of arrest, abduction and a brutal beating.
For example, one opposition member told Human Rights Watch how she was arrested with several relatives, and then savagely beaten by police on March 17 in Warren Park. I tried to tell them not to beat my mother because she is old and not an activist, she said, but they wouldnt stop. They said she was my mother and therefore deserved to be beaten. We were detained for three days and then released without charge.60
The high levels of repression in the high-density suburbs continue. Police have imposed an informal curfew on a number of suburbs including Glenview, and Highfield, arresting and beating any persons found walking in the street after nightfall. According to one woman from Highfield interviewed by Human Rights Watch:
A 20-year-old woman from Highfield told Human Rights Watch:
One man in Highfield told Human Rights Watch, Right now, no one walks about after 7 p.m., unless you want a beating. My nephew was beaten the other day as he was walking home late after visiting friends. The police accused him of being one of the MDC activists who plan acts of violence, but my nephew doesnt support any party.62
Another man told Human Rights Watch:
First-hand accounts from victims and witnesses have implicated members of Zimbabwes Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), youth militia and supporters of the ruling party ZANU PF in acts of harassment, intimidation, abduction and assault of opposition members and supporters, and civil society activists.64
On March 18, eight unidentified men attacked MDC spokesperson and Member of Parliament Nelson Chamisa with iron bars in the departure lounge of Harare International Airport, as he attempted to fly out and attend a European Union-African, Caribbean, and Pacific parliamentary meeting in Brussels, Belgium.65 Chamisa sustained serious head injuries. In an interview from his hospital bed, Chamisa reportedly stated that he believed that the men behind the attacks were CIO agents because the attack occurred in full view of the police at the airport who failed to react.66 Chamisa was among those arrested and brutally beaten on March 11. No one has been arrested for the attack although police are reportedly investigating the incident.
In another case, a 15-year-old girl and her mothera Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activistwere abducted by a group of persons, whom they suspected to be state agents and youth militia on March 19 at Warren Park D in Harare. She described her ordeal to Human Rights Watch:
One civil society activist told Human Rights Watch that he had received repeated visits from people he suspected of being CIO agents:
Civil society activists and opposition supporters allege that CIO agents and youth militia are often present at police stations around the country and are routinely involved in the beatings of activists in custody.69 Similar allegations of CIO and youth militia involvement were made by the opposition officials and supporters beaten on March 11.70
A civil society activist arrested and beaten at Harare police station on March 14 told Human Rights Watch, We always know there are CIO and youth militia at the police stations. They are the ones who dont wear police uniforms. The CIO officers sometimes introduce themselves as coming from the office of the president. They are usually the most brutal ones.71
According to the MDC, scores of its officials and supporters have gone into hiding, and hundreds more arrested and subjected to brutal beatings and torture while in police custody.72
Incidents of arbitrary arrest, abductions and assault of members and supporters of the opposition have increased significantly since the beginning of the year.73 In a press conference in Harare on April 12, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai reported that 600 MDC members and supporters had been arrested, abducted or tortured since early 2007, and 150 had sustained life-threatening injuries since February 16.74
The aftermath of the March 11 prayer meeting has resulted in even further arrests, abductions and beatings of opposition members and supporters. Human Rights Watch is concerned that police are using the petrol bomb attacks, for which trials are yet to take place, as a pretext to violently clamp down on all forms of political activity in the country.
On March 28, police stormed Harvest House in Harare, the political headquarters of the Tsvangirai-led faction of the MDC, and arrested more than ten MDC members and supporters.75 Several others were arrested in the days and weeks that followed, in Harare, and other parts of the country.76 The government claimed that the MDC members and supporters were behind the recent petrol bomb attacks, and that they had found dynamite and detonators at some of their homes.77 Lawyers representing the activists informed Human Rights Watch that they were initially not allowed to see their clients,78 and alleged that the MDC members were severely beaten and tortured in police custody.79 In Harare, 13 MDC members were denied bail and remain in custody accused of organizing and carrying out the petrol bomb attacks.80
In a press statement on April 15, ZADHR condemned the denial of medical access for eight of the MDC members while in custody, and the forcible police removal of the activists from the private hospital where they were receiving treatment for their injuries on March 31.81 According to the MDC, at least 32 of its members and supporters are in police custody in various police stations around the country accused of planning and carrying out the recent petrol bomb attacks.82 The reports of abuse and torture of nine of the members raises deep concerns as to whether the activists will receive a fair trial, if one occurs.
The clampdown on the opposition has driven many into hiding. Human Rights Watch spoke to four local MDC members in Harare who were in hiding. One of them informed Human Rights Watch I was beaten up at the March 11 rally by police. The police are now after me. They are accusing me of inciting people. Even though I am sick from the beatings I am not staying at home anymore. I am afraid if they find me they will beat me again or worse.83
Another female MDC member told Human Rights Watch:
Since March 11, several incidents have occurred in which Zimbabwean security forces have used disproportionate and lethal force against unarmed demonstrators and other activists. For example, MDC member Gift Tandare was killed when police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators during clashes with police in the immediate aftermath of the March 11 prayer meeting.85 One witness to the incident told Human Rights Watch, People were angry because they were being beaten and some threw stones but the police were armed to the hilt and had riot gear. They just fired. 86
On March 12, two MDC supporters were seriously injured when police opened fire on mourners at the funeral of Gift Tandare. According to a report from ZADHR, the two MDC supporters who were shot sustained gunshot injuries to the left ankle and right arm respectively. One sustained a shattered left ankle from the gunshot and was likely to require amputation from the left ankle downwards.87 An MDC supporter present at the funeral described how 20 to 30 police armed with guns, batons and police dogs stormed the funeral:
One of the victims was shot on two separate occasions on the same day. His sister told Human Rights Watch:
On April 7, armed police reportedly stormed the home of opposition member Philip Katsande and shot him three times in the arms and chest. At the time of writing, Katsande remained in a critical condition at Parirenyatwa hospital in Harare. The police were reportedly looking for Katsande in connection with the petrol bomb attacks.90 The police have not investigated any of the shootings described above.
The indiscriminate use of lethal force by police against unarmed demonstrators constitutes a grave violation of the right to life under international human rights law. The incidents prompted a statement from the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston, who called on the government to immediately halt its use of lethal force against unarmed political activists.91 The Special Rapporteur concluded that military and police officers may use lethal force only when doing so is strictly necessary for self-defence or the defence of another's life and that to do otherwise was a violation of international human rights law.
The authorities have also targeted human rights lawyers representing the victims of abuses and journalists trying to cover the political unrest. Some of the lawyers representing those arrested on March 11 and after have been threatened and on occasion assaulted by police officers and persons they allege are CIO agents. Two human rights lawyers told Human Rights Watch that they had received death threats over the phone by unknown persons.92
Several human rights lawyers trying to gain access to arrested opposition supporters and civil society activists also told Human Rights Watch that the police routinely abused and threatened them with violence. In one case, human rights lawyer Harrison Nkomo told Human Rights Watch that a police officer beat him with a baton when he tried to see his clients at Machipisa police station on March 11.93
In a statement released on March 21, the International Bar Associations (IBA) Human Rights Institute condemned the violence and threats made against Zimbabwean lawyers by police and other officials.94 The statement cited four separate incidents where lawyers were reportedly threatened with assault, arrest and in one incident disappearance by police officers. In one case highlighted by the IBA, lawyer Mardzimbabwe Chimbaga was threatened by officials at Harare International airport on March 17, and told to stop taking up cases involving the opposition.95
The intimidation of lawyers violates Zimbabwes obligations under international law, including the ICCPR, and the ACHPR, which guarantee the right to legal counsel of ones choosing. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, though not binding on states, call on governments to ensure protection of lawyers to carry out their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance or harassment.96
Journalists and photographers covering the political unrest have also come under attack. In a statement released in April, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) expressed serious concern about reports of abductions, beatings and torture of journalists in the country.97 According to MISA, on the day of the prayer meeting on March 11, several police assaulted photojournalist Tsvangirai Mukhwazi, who spent three days in custody despite having the required media accreditation.98 On April 1, independent journalist Gift Phiri was arrested and reportedly tortured while in police custody. He was released on bail after four days in custody, and charged with practicing without a licence and abusing journalistic privilege under section 79 (1) and section 80 (1)(b) of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA).99 Phiris case was remanded to April 25 for trial. The judge presiding over his case ordered the state to investigate allegations that Phiri was tortured while in police custody and report accordingly.100 At the time of writing this report police had not indicated whether they would investigate the allegations of torture.
On March 15, police severely beat a photographer and his brother in Glenview when they attempted to take pictures of a group of people at a shopping mall mourning the death of Gift Tandare. His wife told Human Rights Watch:
The reported abduction and murder of Edward Chikomba, a freelance cameraman previously with the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, the state broadcaster, on April 5, has also raised serious concerns about the safety of journalists covering the recent events. Chikomba was reportedly abducted by unknown persons from his home in Harare and later found murdered; his body was reportedly left by the roadside near Darwendale, a township about 60 kilometers north of Harare.102 Police are reportedly investigating the murder.103
50 President Mugabe has repeatedly made statements supporting the police use of force in disrupting peaceful protests and the beatings of activists in police custody.
51 Glen Norah A house attacked, The Sunday Mail newspaper, April 22, 2007, http://www.sundaymail.co.zw/inside.aspx?sectid=1646&cat=1, (accessed April 24, 2007).
52 MDC bombs women cops, The Herald, March 15, 2007.
53 Glen Norah A house attacked, The Sunday Mail newspaper, April 22, 2007.
54 Warren Park supermarket petrol-bombed, The Herald newspaper, March 26, 2007.
55 McDonald Dzirutwe, Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai wants talks, says 600 tortured, Reuters news, April 12, 2007; Zimbabwe: South Africa Linked to MDC 'Terror' Bombings, Financial Gazette, April 19, 2007, http://allafrica.com/stories/200704200779.html , (accessed, April 21, 2007).
56 Human Rights Watch interviews, Harare, March 15, 22 and 27, 2007.
57 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, March 15.
58 Human Rights Watch interview with local store manager [name withheld], Harare, March 15
59 Human Rights Watch interview, Glenview, Harare, March 27, 2007.
60 Human Rights Watch interview with MDC activist [name withheld], Harare, March 22, 2007.
61 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, March 22, 2007.
62 Human Rights Watch interview, Highfield, Harare, March 27, 2007.
63 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, March 22, 2007.
64 Human Rights Watch interviews, Harare, March 14-28, 2007.
65 See interview with Nelson Chamisa published in The Zimbabwean, March 23, 2007; Jen Redshaw, Mugabe critic is beaten up at airport to silence plea for world help, Times Online, March 19, 2007, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/new/world/africa/article1533975.ece (accessed April 4, 2007).
67 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, March 22, 2007.
68 Human Rights Watch interview with civil society activist [name withheld], Highfield, Harare, March 27, 2007.
69 Human Rights Watch interviews with civil society and opposition supporters, Harare, Bulawayo, Masvingo and Mutare, March 14-28, 2007.
70 Testimony from civil society activists and members of the opposition at Save Zimbabwe Campaign press conference, Harare, March 16, 2007.
71 Human Rights Watch interview with activist [name withheld], March 15, 2007.
72 Zimbabwe activists badly beaten, BBC online news, March 31, 2007, MDC activists appear in Harare court, SABC news, April 3, 2007.
73 See Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, political violence report January 2007, March 16, 2007; ZLHR concerned at continuing indiscriminate arrests of MDC members, ZLHR press statement, February 22, 2007.
74 McDonald Dzirutwe, Zimbabwe's Tsvangirai wants talks, says 600 tortured.
75 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with opposition supporters, civil society activists and lawyers, Harare, March 28, 2007.
76 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with some of the lawyers representing the activists, April 25, 2007.
77 MDC activists denied bail again, Zimonline, April 11, 2007, http://www.zwnews.com/issuefull.cfm?ArticleID=16413 (accessed April 24, 2007).
78 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with lawyers, Harare, March 28, 2007.
79 See Zimbabwe activists badly beaten, BBC online news, March 31, 2007, http//www.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/Africa/6515007.stm (accessed March 31, 2007); MDC activists appear in Harare court, SABC news.
81 ZADHR press statement, April 15, 2007.
82 MDC statement, A Summary of MDC Political Prisoners in Zimbabwe, April 25, 2007, http://www.mdczw.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=269&Itemid=2&1 (accessed, April 26, 2007).
83 Human Rights Watch interview with MDC member [name withheld], Harare, March 15, 2007.
84 Human Rights Watch interview with MDC member [name withheld], Harare, March 22, 2007.
85 Human Rights Watch interview with witness [name withheld], Harare, March 15, 2007.
86 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, March 15, 2007.
87 ZADHR press statement, Nature of Injuries of Tortured Civil Society Activists and Opposition Party Leaders, March 14, 2007.
88 Human Rights Watch interview with MDC supporter, Harare, March 15, 2007.
89 Human Rights Watch interview, Glenview, Harare, March 27, 2007.
90 Shot MDC activist under police guard, MDC press statement, http://www.mdczw.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=262&Itemid=2&1, April 11, 2007, (accessed April 12, 2007).
91 Government Of Zimbabwe Must Immediately Halt Use Of Lethal Force Against Unarmed Political Activists, Special Rapporteur Says, UN news, April 2, 2007. http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/(httpNewsByYear_en)/5CBBEC31014128A9C12572B100542D03?OpenDocument (accessed, April 4, 2007).
92 Human Rights Watch interviews with lawyers, Harare, March 25, 2007.
93 Human Rights Watch interview, Harare, March 15, 2007.
94 Zimbabwe: Violence and Threats against Lawyers Condemned by the IBA, International Bar Association press release, March 21, 2007, http://www.ibanet.org/iba/article.cfm?article=111 (accessed online, April 4, 2007).
96ICCPR, article 14; ACHPR, article 7. See also Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, August 27 to September 7 1990, U.N. Doc.A/CONF.144/28/Rev.1 at 118 (1990). These principles guarantee the right of all persons to be assisted by a lawyer. They also provide that governments ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, or harassment. Further governments are obliged to ensure that lawyers shall not suffer or be threatened with sanctions for any action as part of their professional duties. In situations where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their duties, they must be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.
97 Press freedom falls prey to arrest and torture, IRINnews, April 11, 2007, http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/a44b1d40e7ed43043ffd582c95f24626.htm (accessed April 12, 2007).
98 Brutally Assaulted Journalists, Opposition Activists Freed from Police Custody, MISA (Windhoek), March 16, 2007, http://www.allafrica.com/stories/200703170865.html (accessed April 5, 2007); South Africa response to Zimbabwes Freedom of Expression Crisis Grossly Inadequate, Freedom of Expression Institute press release, April 5, 2007, allafrica.com, http://allafrica.com/stories/200704050861.html (accessed April 5, 2007); See also press statement by Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, Pansy Tlakula, MISA media statement, http://www.misazim.co.zw/press_statements/special_rap.htm. (accessed April 11, 2007).
99 Magistrate Ignores High Court Order as Journalist is Granted Bail, MISA media alert April 5, 2007. http://www.misazim.co.zw/ALERTS/Jan_Dec%202007/gift_bail.htm. (accessed April 11, 2007).
101 Human Rights Watch interview, Glenview, Harare, March 27, 2007.
102 South Africa response to Zimbabwes Freedom of Expression Crisis Grossly Inadequate, Freedom of Expression Institute press release, April 5, 2007, allafrica.com, http://allafrica.com/stories/200704050861.html (accessed April 5, 2007); Harare cameramans body dumped, BBC online news, April 5, 2007, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6529887.stm. (accessed April 5, 2007).
103 Angus Shaw, Reporters death prompts probe, Associated Press, April 6, 2007, http://www.ap.org.