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Archive for the ‘Diamond Land of Zimbabwe’ Category

Zimbabwe comedian is latest in torture of government critics

August 23, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — A wave of abductions, torture and arrests in Zimbabwe are targeting opposition activists and other government critics, the latest being a popular comedian dragged from her home by armed and masked men.

Barely two years after euphoric scenes engulfed Zimbabwe following the forced resignation of former repressive ruler Robert Mugabe, frustration and fear have returned. Comedian Samantha Kureya was this week dragged from her bed, stripped naked and tortured by masked men with assault rifles for skits perceived as anti-government. She spoke to The Associated Press from her hospital bed.

“I am living in fear,” she said, complaining of “severe pain” in her legs and on her back. Kureya said the men claiming to be police officers dragged her from bed half naked and bundled her into a waiting car on Wednesday night. They beat her using short whips, forced her to roll in a stream of sewage and drink from it, she said.

“I was wearing my underwear and a T-shirt when they took me, they didn’t even give me a chance to dress properly,” she said. Her abductors forced her to strip naked during the torture and warned her against mocking the government before abandoning her to seek clothing and help from strangers, said Kureya.

She had received threats on social media before the abduction, she said. Her latest skit mocked security agents for beating up demonstrators that included elderly women. Political tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy deteriorates with inflation at over 175% and growing dissatisfaction with President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from Mugabe less than two years ago with promises of a “new dawn” and a “flowering of democracy.”

Human rights groups say at least six activists were abducted and tortured by suspected security agents ahead of an opposition demonstration last week. Police later used violence to disperse demonstrators in Harare on August 16.

One of the activists abducted and tortured ahead of last week’s demonstration, Tatenda Mombeyarara had visible wounds on his legs, hands, buttocks and back. His kidneys were damaged and doctors put metal plates and pins on his fractured left leg and hand, he said, showing AP a scan while lying on a hospital bed. He said he was beaten with sjamboks (short whips), gun butts and a wheel spanner and also submerged in a pool of dirty water at a quarry dumpsite.

“They told me ‘you think you are a hero, all that will end today. You are going to die and your American sponsors will not save you’,” said Mombeyarara, who has been in hospital for the past nine days. “I am still traumatized. The pain was unbearable. I thought I was going to die.”

An opposition member of parliament said unknown people fired shots at his house Wednesday night, while a top official was arrested Thursday and accused of failing to stop supporters from demonstrating against the government. Since January, more than 20 activists have been charged with plotting to unseat Mnangagwa.

Police spokesman Paul Nyathi said the recent abductions and attacks “are being investigated” but denied that security agents were involved. “We cannot blame security agents (for the abduction) because investigations are still underway,” he said.

Government spokesman Nick Mangwana blamed the attacks on “a force” he associated with Mugabe “to impair President Mnangagwa’s image as a sincere reformer.” The U.S embassy in Zimbabwe and the European Union Delegation to Zimbabwe said in a joint statement earlier this week that reports of worsening human rights abuses were of “great concern.”

Kureya, the comedian, said she would continue poking fun at the government despite her abductors threatening to “put a bullet” in her mother’s head if she continues with her work. “That is how I survive,” she said. “I don’t have any other job, plus we all can’t just keep quiet when things are as bad as they are in this country.”

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Zimbabwe’s president returns amid economic crisis, crackdown

January 22, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa arrived in Harare late Monday after cutting short his fund-raising trip in order to address the country’s economic crisis and crackdown.

Mnangagwa was welcomed at Harare International Airport by Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, former army commander who was in charge during the president’s week-long absence and when the government launched a widespread clampdown in which 12 people were killed, more shot by troops and others dragged from their homes and beaten, according to human rights groups.

Mnangagwa hugged Chiwenga and chatted with him on the runway for 15 minutes. The president then told state broadcasting that his trip to Russia and Kazakhstan was fruitful and will benefit Zimbabwe in the long run. During his trip Mnangagwa met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and asked him for a loan.

Earlier Monday the government intensified its crackdown on dissent by charging the leader of the country’s largest labor organization with subversion, as the courts ruled that the shutdown of the internet was illegal.

Zimbabwe police arrested Japhet Moyo, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and charged him with subversion for his role in organizing last week’s national strike. The arrest and Mnangagwa’s return come after a week of turmoil. During the strike, some people went onto the streets to protest the government’s drastic increase in fuel prices. The government said the demonstrations degenerated into riots, prompting it to launch a sweeping wave of repression. Security forces opened fire on crowds, wounding many bystanders, and went house to house in some neighborhoods, beating up many men, according to witnesses.

The government also imposed an internet blackout across the country. On Monday Zimbabwe’s High Court ordered the government to restore full internet to the country. The shutdown of the internet was illegal because the Minister of State for Security, who ordered the internet closure, does not have powers to issue such a directive, said the court ruling. Only President Emmerson Mnangagwa has the authority to make such an order, said the court. Over the weekend the government restored partial internet access, but kept a blackout on social media apps like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. The government alleges the internet has been used to organize violent demonstrations.

Zimbabwe’s capital gingerly recovered from the week of tumult Monday. Most shops and businesses reopened, although many people are stocking up on food items in case of further unrest. Indicating the severity of Zimbabwe’s economic problems, South Africa confirmed that it turned down Mnangagwa’s request for a loan of $1.2 billion recently. “We just don’t have that kind of money,” South African treasury spokesman Jabulani Sikhakhane told the broadcaster, eNCA.

Activist and pastor Evan Mawarire has been jailed since Wednesday and has been charged with subversion against the government for which he faces 20 years in jail if convicted. Mawarire had used social media to support peaceful protests against the fuel price increases. The case against Mawarire is a “travesty of justice” said his lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa. His application to be released on bail will be heard on Jan. 23.

In the widespread crackdown, about two-thirds of the more than 600 people who were arrested have been denied bail, said Mtetwa. When Mnangagwa tweeted Sunday that he would cut short his European trip and to come back to Zimbabwe, he didn’t mention the violence, saying only that he is returning “in light of the economic situation.” He said his first priority “is to get Zimbabwe calm, stable and working again.”

At Davos, he planned to appeal for foreign investment and loans, but the visit had been expected to be a challenge. His Davos visit a year ago came shortly after he took over from longtime, repressive leader Robert Mugabe, a move cheered by Zimbabweans and the international community.

But Mnangagwa has faced a year of troubles in which his administration failed to improve the collapsed economy, narrowly won a disputed election and violently put down anti-government protests. The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference last week lamented the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse, concluding that “our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history.”

Zimbabwe again forces ‘total internet shutdown’ amid unrest

January 18, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe’s government has again forced a “total internet shutdown,” a media group says, after a days-long violent crackdown on people protesting dramatic fuel price increases. MISA-Zimbabwe shared a text message from the country’s largest telecom company, Econet, calling the government order “beyond our reasonable control.” The shutdown faces a court challenge from the group and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights.

On Friday, a prominent pastor and activist who faces a possible 20 years in prison on a subversion charge arrived at court, one of more than 600 people arrested this week. Evan Mawarire calls it “heartbreaking” to see the new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa acting like that of former leader Robert Mugabe.

Mawarire is accused of inciting civil disobedience online. “It’s a shame what’s happening,” the handcuffed pastor said Friday. “Our country is going through one of the most trying periods in its history,” the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference said in a sweeping statement lamenting the government’s “intolerant handling of dissent” and its failure to halt economic collapse.

International calls for restraint by Zimbabwe’s security forces are growing, while Mnangagwa prepares to plead for more investment at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He announced the fuel price increase on the eve of his overseas trip, leaving hardline former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga as acting president.

Gasoline in the economically shattered country is now the world’s most expensive. Zimbabweans heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call earlier this week in protest. Rights groups and others have accused security forces of targeting activists and labor leaders in response, with the United States expressing alarm.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights has said it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more. Hungry residents of the capital, Harare, who ventured out seeking food reported being tear-gassed by police.

Soldiers were still controlling long fuel lines in Harare on Friday. Death tolls this week have varied. Eight people were killed when police and military fired on crowds, Amnesty International said. Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman stoned to death by an angry crowd.

The demonstrations amount to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, blaming the opposition. State Security Minister Owen Ncube thanked security forces for “standing firm.” Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.” But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t even have a currency of its own.

The UK’s minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, has summoned Zimbabwe’s ambassador to discuss “disturbing reports of use of live ammunition, intimidation and excessive force” against protesters. The European Union in a statement late Thursday noted the “disproportionate use of force by security personnel” and urged that internet service be restored.

Associated Press photographer Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi in Harare contributed.

US alarmed as Zimbabwe targets, beats activists amid unrest

January 17, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe said Thursday it is “alarmed” by credible reports that security forces are targeting and beating activists and labor leaders after a local doctors’ rights group said it had treated 68 gunshot cases and scores of other cases of assault.

The U.S. also urged Zimbabwe’s government to restore access to social media as the country faces its worst unrest since deadly post-election violence in August. Zimbabweans this week heeded a nationwide stay-at-home call after the government dramatically increased fuel prices, making gasoline in the economically shattered country the world’s most expensive.

Hungry residents of the capital, Harare, on Wednesday reported being tear-gassed by police as they ventured out to seek food. “Are we at war?” one resident asked. The city was quiet on Thursday as people stayed home, with schools and many shops closed and soldiers controlling long lines at the few gas stations open.

Zimbabwe’s state security minister late Wednesday said more than 600 people have been arrested. Prominent pastor and activist Evan Mawarire was in court in Harare on Thursday, accused of inciting violence online. He had been bundled into a police car while clutching a Bible.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa while traveling overseas has denounced what he called “wanton violence and cynical destruction” but appeared to side with authorities who blame the opposition for the unrest. He had announced the more than doubling of fuel prices shortly before leaving the country.

Zimbabweans had briefly rejoiced when Mnangagwa succeeded longtime leader Robert Mugabe, who was forced out in late 2017, thinking the new president would deliver on his refrain that the country “is open for business.” But frustration has risen over the lack of improvement in the collapsed economy, which doesn’t even have a currency of its own.

While Mnangagwa makes an extended overseas trip that will include a stop at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to plead for more foreign investment, former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a hardliner, is in charge at home.

In a grim recounting of alleged police violence this week, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said late Wednesday it had treated 68 cases of gunshot wounds and 100-plus other cases of “assaults with sharp objects, booted feet, baton sticks” and more.

It noted bites from the alleged unleashing of police dogs, and the “dragging of patients with life-threatening conditions” to court. Death tolls this week have varied. Eight people were killed on Monday when police and military fired on crowds, Amnesty International said. Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman stoned to death by an angry crowd.

The demonstrations amount to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said, blaming the opposition. In announcing the hundreds of arrests, State Security Minister Owen Ncube thanked security forces for “standing firm.”

Some Zimbabweans said the lack of social media meant they didn’t know the situation and preferred to stay in their homes. “I can’t tell whether it’s safe or not, why should I take a risk?” said Elsy Shamba in Harare’s Kuwadzana suburb, one of the areas where residents said soldiers indiscriminately assaulted people earlier in the week.

Zimbabwe police arrest prominent government critic

January 16, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe police armed with AK-47 rifles arrested Evan Mawarire, an activist and pastor, from his home in the capital, Harare, on Wednesday as a crackdown grew over protests against dramatic fuel price hikes in the economically shattered country. He was clutching a Bible when police bundled him into their car.

Mawarire organized what became nationwide anti-government protests in 2016 against mismanagement and then-President Robert Mugabe’s long stay in power. “They are alleging that he incited violence through Twitter and other forms of social media in the central business district,” said Beatrice Mtetwa, Mawarire’s lawyer.

There were widespread reports of violence as the country faced a third day of protests over what has become the world’s most expensive gasoline. This is Zimbabwe’s worst unrest since deadly post-election violence in August that saw six people killed.

Zimbabwe’s largest telecom company, Econet, sent text messages to customers saying it had been forced by the government to shut down internet service. “The matter is beyond our control,” it said. Other arrests were reported. A spokesman for the main opposition MDC party, Nkululeko Sibanda, said in a Twitter post that “party leadership” had been detained. “This is only deepening the political crisis in the country,” he said.

As President Emmerson Mnangagwa makes an extended overseas trip that will include a stop at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to plead for more foreign investment, former military commander and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a hardliner, is in charge at home.

Eight people were killed on Monday when police and military fired on crowds, according to Amnesty International. But Zimbabwe’s government said three people were killed, including a policeman who was stoned to death by an angry crowd.

The anti-government demonstrations amounted to “terrorism,” Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said on state television Tuesday night. The protests were “well-coordinated” by Zimbabwe’s opposition, she said.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights said in a statement that it had attended to 107 patients by late Tuesday afternoon, with injuries including gunshot wounds to the head. It said most cases were in Harare and Zimbabwe’s second city, Bulawayo.

International concern has been rising over Zimbabwe after a burst of optimism when Mugabe stepped down in late 2017 under military pressure. The British minister for Africa, Harriett Baldwin, on Tuesday noted “worrying levels of violence” and urged restraint by Zimbabwe’s security forces. But South Africa’s foreign ministry said in a statement that “we’re confident measures being taken by the Zimbabwean government will resolve the situation.”

Streets were deserted in Harare on Wednesday. “Shops closed, schools closed, no public transport, petrol stations closed,” said Human Rights Watch southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga. “Food fast running out in homes,” he added. Zimbabwe’s acting president was “silent.”

Tensions rise in Zimbabwe’s capital after fuel price hikes

January 14, 2019

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Protesters have blocked roads in some parts in Zimbabwe’s capital after the government more than doubled the price of gasoline. Police deployed in large numbers in Harare and few people ventured into the central business district on Monday. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the country’s biggest labor federation, has called for a three-day strike this week.

Peter Mutasa, the labor federation president, says workers can’t afford bus fares, which tripled in some cases. In the volatile Mabvuku and Epworth suburbs, residents barricaded roads and prevented public transport vehicles from operating in the area. Some people threw stones at cars.

Government spokesman Nick Mangwana says the opposition, civil society groups and some foreign organizations are trying to use the fuel shortages and price increases to topple the government.

Passengers in Zimbabwe caught in bus fire; 40 killed

November 16, 2018

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Fire swept through a passenger bus in Zimbabwe, killing more than 40 people and injuring at least 20, some of whom suffered severe burns, authorities said Friday. A photograph posted on Twitter by the Zimbabwe Red Cross shows the remains of the bus that was completely incinerated late Thursday. The Red Cross said its teams responded to a “horrific accident” involving a bus heading to neighboring South Africa at around midnight.

“Combustible material was allowed onto the bus, thus causing a conflagration which entrapped, scalded and consumed innocent passengers,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a condolence message. Mnangagwa said the government should “take appropriate measures which comprehensively deal with this growing menace on our roads.”

The accident happened in Gwanda district, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) south of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba confirmed a death toll of more than 40. Last week, a collision between two buses in Zimbabwe killed 50 people and injured about 80.

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