GLOBAL and local human rights organisations have written to the United Nations to red-flag Zimbabwe for alleged continued persecution of human rights defenders.
The organisations that include Committee to Protect Journalists, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights, Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights wrote to Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
In the letter, also sent to six other UN Special Rapporteurs, the rights defenders said Zimbabwe was under siege as citizens’ rights continue to be violated.
UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and expression, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, among others, were also copied.
The letter was also copied to the Zimbabwean embassy in the United States.
“We write to call your attention to the disturbing trend in Zimbabwe of weaponising the criminal justice system to stifle dissent and suppress the activities of human rights defenders and journalists,” the letter read in part.
“We are particularly concerned that the arrests and charges against individuals are politically motivated and violate their human rights, including their personal liberty and freedom of expression.”
The human rights organisations expressed concern over the alleged disregard of international statutes and the Zimbabwe Constitution by the State in their enforcement of arbitrary arrests of those perceived to be anti-government.
“The following high-profile arrests in just the first half of 2021 exemplify the Zimbabwe government’s persecution of journalists and HRDs, including lawyers and political activists, in violation of international law,” the organisations said while mentioning the arrests of journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, a prominent journalist and a vocal anti-corruption activist, MDC Alliance deputy national chairman and lawyer Job Sikhala, MDC Alliance spokesperson and lawyer Fadzayi Mahere, who were both charged in relation to comments allegedly posted on their social media pages.
“On February 26, Zimbabwe police arrested Kumbirai Mafunda, a freelance journalist and the communications officer for the ZLHR. He was at Rotten Row Magistrates Court covering ZLHR cases when he was arrested, allegedly for practising journalism without accreditation.”
The arbitrary arrests have been condemned by other global actors including the European Union, the United States, among others.
The letter also mentioned the arrest in March of four students who were charged with disorderly conduct while protesting against the arrest of fellow student leaders.
The letter also mentioned the recent arrest of New York Times correspondent Jeffrey Moyo who was charged with violating the Immigration Act and the June 22 arrest of Chitungwiza Residents Trust director Alice Kuvheya for allegedly inciting criminal activity and gathering with intent to incite public violence.
The rights group also raised concern over the proposed Patriotic Bill the Zanu PF government is pushing into law saying this would curtail citizens’ freedoms.
“In light of the foregoing violations and the worrying trend they represent of abuse of the criminal justice system to stifle dissent, we respectfully urge your mandates to publicly intervene and urge the government of Zimbabwe to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression and liberty.”
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi refused to comment and referred questions to his Labour and Social Welfare counterpart Paul Mavima.