HomeLocalAbductions, torture, dragnet arrests amid vicious crackdown against dissent

Abductions, torture, dragnet arrests amid vicious crackdown against dissent

news in depth BY BLESSED MHLANGA

Blessing Kunotonga is one of scores of opposition supporters left nursing serious injuries after state security agents launched a crackdown against the MDC ahead of the banned August 16 protests.

Kunotonga, a branch chairman in Mufakose, was abducted by armed men on the eve of the demonstrations that were eventually called off following a ban by the courts.

He was tortured and left for dead. Kunotonga said he was lucky to be alive, but said the horrific experience would not force him to change his political views.

“One of the guys hit me with the butt of a gun on my hip and I was injured,” he said.

“They beat me up until I passed out, that is when they left me.”

Kunotonga said he was bleeding and his body felt numb following the assault. After gathering courage, he walked to a nearby house where he sought refuge until
the following morning.

Tatenda Mombeyarara of Citizens Manifesto was also abducted and brutalised by suspected state security agents.

The government last Thursday blamed alleged disgruntled former state security agents loyal to ex-president Robert Mugabe for the abductions, but human rights
groups say police are behind the latest wave of rights violations.

Police descended heavily on MDC supporters that had gathered peacefully while awaiting a court challenge against the ban on the Harare protests.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said on Friday 12 people had been treated by medical doctors following assaults and torture at the hands of the police.

“This number is expected to increase as more reports are received,” the NGOs said. “By 3pm on August 16, 2019, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) had
attended to 128 arrests. Some of the arrests were executed in a dragnet manner.”

Images of police officers bludgeoning women on the streets of Harare went viral, prompting the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights to issue a
strong-worded statement.

United States assistant secretary of state for Africa Tibor Nagy urged the security forces to respect human rights.

“We condemn the excessive force the police used today against Zimbabweans who were seeking to demonstrate peacefully,” Nagy tweeted.

“We call on Zimbabwe’s security forces to respect human rights and to exercise restraint.”

Observes said there was no justification for the police to use excessive force as the protesters were peaceful

“It is clear from eyewitness accounts and video footage that the protesters gathered at Africa Unity Square were peaceful, posed no threat to people or
property,” the Zimbabwe NGO Forum said.

“In fact, our monitors on the ground witnessed the crowd sitting on the ground when the police suddenly and menacingly advanced towards the protesters mainly
targeting women.

“Several groups of people were rounded up at corner Second Street and Samora Machel Avenue and at Parliament Building in the Harare central business district.

“They were thoroughly beaten while already under arrest and not attempting to escape. Other reports were received from Chitungwiza and Norton. The total number
of victims is still to be ascertained.”

Ashton Maguza said he was one of the people who were teargased at Africa Unity Square while they waited for the outcome of the court challenge.

“They beat me up and my leg is sore,” he said.” I am calling on them to kill me. I don’t care. At one point I fainted under teargas fire, so they can come and
kill me.”

Kunotonga said the abductions and the torture would not stop opposition activists from piling pressure on the government.

“If they want, they can kill me,” he said. “Even if I die, someone will rise to take my place and to those who kill, the avenging spirit will not hunt for the
person who sent you, it will follow you.”

MDC leader Nelson Chamisa condemned the violent crackdown and vowed to continue piling pressure on the government until it meets the opposition’s demands.

The MDC, which has lined up another protest in Bulawayo tomorrow says it wants to force President Emmerson Mnangagwa into the negotiating table over last
year’s disputed elections.

Chamisa said his party’s supporters in Harare, Chitungwiza and Norton had been brutalised on Friday.
“We have received some seven serious cases of assaults particularly on account of brutality of the police especially in the city centre,” he said.

“We also heard of journalists who were assaulted, abused on account of the teargas. Of those cases of assault one of them is very severe, a woman whose
circumstances we are not very clear about.

“We have been receiving cases of abductions since Tuesday.

“In fact, 10 were recorded on Tuesday, four on Wednesday and another four on Thursday night making it a total of about 18. That tells you the magnitude of the
challenges we are facing.”

Defence and War Veterans deputy minister Victor Matemadanda last month said the government would deploy “soldiers who are trained to kill” to deal with any
violent protests.

In January, at least 17 people were allegedly killed when Mnangagwa deployed the army to quell violent protests against a steep increase in the price of fuel.

Six people were shot dead by soldiers on August 1 last year as opposition supporters protested against delays in the release of presidential election results.

Mnangagwa recently said he regrets the violence, but no one has been charged over the deaths.

A commission of inquiry chaired by former South African president Kgalema Motlanthe recommended that the soldiers behind the August 1 killings must be

“The use of live ammunition directed at people especially when they were fleeing was clearly unjustified and disproportionate,” read part of the report.

The panel concluded that the use of sjamboks, batons and rifle butts to assault members of the public indiscriminately was also disproportionate.
Meanwhile, MDC vice-president Tendai Biti said there was no justification to ban the MDC demonstration, saying the party always conducted peaceful protests.

“We have an affidavit that said we had the final push of June 2004. We had the May 1999 Operation Murambatsvina demonstration,” he told journalists in Harare.

“We had the democratic resistance campaign rallies, in January of 2007, February and March of 2007 and March of that year including the heavy assault in
Highfield on 11 March 2007.

“Last year we had that huge and massive demonstration on June 8 and 20 000 people came out.

“The 5th of July 2018 we had a peaceful action and nobody questions our record. Police never said the MDC was violent in the past.

“We had nothing to do with August 1 2018 and January protests and our record is impeccable.”

Police had claimed that they had intelligence showing that the MDC protests were bound to turn violent.

On the eve of the demonstration, the Zimbabwe Republic Police said it had seen unmarked vehicles delivering stones and catapults to street kids, which were
ostensibly going to be used during the violence.

According to the police, the street kids disappeared into the night. In Harare yesterday police maintained a heavy presence and mounted roadblocks in many
parts of the city.

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