Prominent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa says it is time Zimbabweans did something to stop the abduction of government critics by suspected state security agents.
Human rights groups say at least 55 opposition and civil society activists have been allegedly abducted since last year, but no one has been arrested in connection with the crimes.
Mtetwa (BM), who was a guest, alongside another prominent human rights lawyer David Coltart in a recent episode of the online talk show In Conversation with Trevor hosted by Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN), said Zimbabweans must explore private prosecutions for the people behind the abductions.
Coltart said President Emmerson Mnangagwa is ultimately responsible for the security of citizens, but Zanu PF leader remained mum about the rampant abductions.
Below is the second part of the interview. The first instalment was published last Sunday.
TN: The denials from government that they were not involved in (the alleged abduction of MDC Alliance activists) were accompanied by a determined investigation of wanting to find out who actually did this. One would have thought that the state does have the machinery to double down and ensure that these people are apprehended. What’s your view on that?
DC: If we think of what happened in the last 14 months, the 55 abductions, one consistent response from the government is that there is a third force and there has been an allegation that the opposition somehow is involved in this.
Why have we not seen a thorough investigation on what happened to Peter Magombeyi and all the rest?
There has been absolute silence and that all points to complicity by the state.
BM: On the issue of the police going to take pictures of these women that is a fact and as Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights we have formally written to the government to say how is it possible for police to say we are taking pictures for investigations and they get the women to take their clothes off and then those very same pictures end up on social media, that could only have come from the police.
I would expect them to have been arrested by now.
As David says, this whole thing has been orchestrated from above, there is no state security agent who would go and take these women from police custody without some okaying of that by a senior officer.
There can be no question that this is traceable to the echelons of power.
The women are deemed now to be criminals, people will not be forthcoming with what they go through.
TN: It does appear that there is grave indiscipline within the police force, within certain sections of the military; it’s as if somebody has said the people go out and be reckless or there isn’t a command structure.
DC: We know our security forces are highly disciplined.
There is a command structure and the command must have come from somewhere, it’s been consistent for a year now.
This points to the very top in government and the buck has to stop somewhere, it stops at the top, at the president’s office, and the president has been completely quiet for two weeks now.
One would expect condemnation of this from the highest office, they will continue until the highest office speaks and say enough is enough.
BM: And not just speak and say enough, we need to see action where perpetrators are brought to account, where they are prosecuted and where if you sue for damages, the state does not rush and pay for them.
The taxpayer paid for some rogue security agents, on Jestina [Mukoko]’s case.
We need to find ways of not just naming and shaming individuals at the end of the day.
At the end of the day it is the president who appoints even the commissions of inquiry.
We have had many of these, but I think it’s now time for people to find a way to stop it without expecting the state, which is the perpetrator.
We must have a conversation on how we can stop it.
Where we can do private prosecutions, we do them; where we can sue people in their personal capacities, we do it.
TN: What’s your response to that, David, we take matters into our hands, we find a way out of dealing with these issues, what’s your response to that, David?
DC: I think what we’ve got to start doing is as Beatrice has said, to have more conversations like this one.
In my mind, the soul of our nation is in trouble.
We have now got to that point where we view people who belong to a certain political party as enemies of the state.
Beatrice’s letter was very powerful, she spoke as a mother, I think that is the sort of conversation we ought to have with Mnangagwa and (his wife) Auxillia.
TN: Let me just bring a matter that we need to deal with; when you say that you arrested them for breaking the law.
They were protesting, then you deal with them in the heavy-handed manner.
It diminishes the importance of the alleged initial crime that they committed? Do you want to come in on that, Beatrice?
BM: It’s quite obvious that the threat to arrest them and taking them to court is meant to stop them asserting their rights as regards the bigger issue of their abduction and torture.
The law is very clear, if you have committed a crime and you are arrested at a roadblock, you must be taken before a magistrate within 48 hours unless they are able to justify why it should be longer, but that should be decided by a magistrate.
Nobody is saying people should not be arrested and prosecuted if they commit a crime, but due process must be followed.
Where it is quite clear that it is now being followed to cover up what these women went through; nobody has even taken proper statements from them, there ought to be a very strict adherence to even-handedness in dealing with these cases.
My view is that as the women go to court, it should be a trial of their abductors first and foremost.
DC: If they were eventually taken to court for violating Covid-19 rules, any reasonable magistrate would just give them caution and discharge them.
The state attention and focus should be on the very grave crimes committed against them.