Amnesty International has called for an independent investigation into the attack on a Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) rally which left one dead and 22 others hospitalised.
The rights watchdog blamed incendiary rhetoric by President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime officials for “inciting such ferocious violence.”
The embassies of the United States, Britain and Sweden also called for a swift investigation and the prosecution of the perpetrators.
“This assault bears all the hallmarks of a pre-meditated attack that aims to intimidate political opposition and block access to their constituents ahead of the upcoming by-elections in March,” Amnesty International’s deputy director for Southern Africa Muleya Mwananyanda said.
“The government’s rhetoric has done much to incite such ferocious violence and unfortunately little to ensure the free exercise of the rights to freedom of assembly and association.”
Mwananyanda urged Zimbabwe’s government to “immediately end the culture of politically-motivated violence by refraining from issuing inflammatory statements that may incite violence” and to “ensure an impartial, independent and transparent investigation into this attack… The perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
Campaigning in Kwekwe on Saturday, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga compared the CCC to “lice” and said it must be “crushed”.
Melanie Robinson, Britain’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, said she was “concerned by reports of violent attacks on opposition supporters at a rally.”
Robinson said it was “vital that perpetrators are brought to justice and that all parties can campaign freely without fear of violence.”
The United States embassy said it “stands with the people of Zimbabwe who seek to exercise their political rights and assemble peacefully.”
“We call for broad support to end political violence. There is no room for political violence in a democracy,” the embassy said.
Mboneni Ncube, a 35-year-old father of one who died at the rally after being stabbed with a sharp object “was killed for exercising his rights – rights due to all citizens in a democracy,” the US embassy added.
Åsa Pehrson, the Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe said it was “key that perpetrators are brought to justice.”
“Sweden stands up for free, fair and peaceful elections. All acts of violence, including politically motivated, must be condemned,” she added.
Police said a group of Zanu PF supporters attacked CCC supporters at the rally with an assortment of weapons. When 16 suspects were arrested hiding in a local bar, police recovered machetes, knives, catapults, and whips in their vehicles.
On Saturday, a day before the attack on the Kwekwe rally, police used dogs, teargas and water cannons to disperse Chamisa’s supporters in Gokwe after banning his rally.
The CCC says the ruling Zanu PF party is using state institutions including the police to frustrate its political programmes ahead of by-elections on March 26. Twenty eight National Assembly seats and 120 municipal seats are vacant.