In March the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) held an extraordinary summit in Tanzania and appointed President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to facilitate dialogue between the government of Zimbabwe and the MDC. The dialogue started at a very slow pace and missed several deadlines. Amnesty International and local human rights organizations were concerned about the mediation process’ silence on human rights violations. The SADC mediation process did not have a clear strategy for civil participation. While the talks were ongoing, the police in Zimbabwe continued to target MDC members and human rights defenders. Following agreements reached during the talks, in October the Constitutional Amendment (No.18) Act was passed, aiming to synchronize presidential, parliamentary and local government elections and to create a human rights commission. In December Parliament passed a number of other Bills in line with agreements reached during the talks, including the Public Order and Security Amendment Bill and the Electoral Laws Amendment Bill.
The economy continued to decline, severely eroding household incomes and capacity to access food, health care and education. The World Food Programme estimated that about four million Zimbabweans were in need of food aid. Annual inflation was running at over 7,900 per cent at the end of September, but the Central Statistical Office failed to release the October, November and December figures. In June the government introduced price controls, ostensibly to arrest spiralling food prices. This policy resulted in panic buying and by the beginning of July most goods including maize meal, the staple diet, could not be found in shops. During the enforcement of the price controls the police arrested more than 7,000 business people for flouting price control regulations. There were reports of corrupt conduct by price enforcement agents, including hoarding by state security agents.
Freedom of assembly and association
Throughout the year police imposed severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of association and assembly of human rights defenders, students, trade unionists and members of the MDC. Police used excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations. Detainees in police custody were tortured, in particular by being beaten severely, and ill-treated. Repeatedly, detainees were denied access to lawyers, food and medical care.
On 21 February police in Harare announced a three-month ban on demonstrations in parts of the city. This ban appears to have breached Section 27 of the Public Order and Security Act (POSA), which only allows police to impose a one-month ban.
While police used excessive force to break up demonstrations or meetings organized by the MDC and civil society organizations, there were no reports of police stopping any meeting or demonstration organized by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party or its partner organizations, including the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association.
- On 18 February, police in Harare stopped the MDC from holding a rally at the Zimbabwe grounds in Highfield, a low-income suburb in Harare. The MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai had called a rally to launch its presidential campaign for the 2008 elections. Despite a High Court order obtained by the MDC on 17 February barring police from blocking the rally, police mounted checkpoints to stop people reaching the venue. At least 50 people were injured, five of them seriously, when police beat participants at random. Police first assaulted the MDC supporters with baton sticks and later used dogs, tear gas and water canons to disperse them. Injuries were also reported among the police. Police were also reported to have gone door to door beating suspected MDC supporters. On 19 February police arrested several MDC leaders in Highfield.
- On 11 March at least 50 activists were arrested in Highfield after attempting to attend a prayer meeting organized by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign, a coalition of political parties, civil society organizations and churches. The meeting was in protest at the police’s three-month ban on demonstrations in parts of Harare. Those arrested included MDC faction leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara; National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) chairperson Lovemore Madhuku; and senior MDC members Sekai Holland and Grace Kwinjeh. They were taken to Machipisa police station where police kicked them and beat them with baton sticks. The beatings continued at various police stations where the detainees were later transferred. Several activists suffered serious injuries including fractures and deep skin lacerations. They were denied access to lawyers and only Lovemore Madhuku and Morgan Tsvangirai were allowed access to medical care. Police defied a High Court order to present the detainees at the High Court on 13 March. Police also failed to present the detainees before a magistrate by midday on the same day. Police at Harare Central police station refused permission for some of the seriously injured to be transported by ambulance to court, turning ambulances away. The detainees spent at least four hours at Rotten Row magistrate court without anyone attending to them. Police only allowed the detainees to be taken to hospital after the intervention of officers from the Attorney General’s office. At midnight on 13 March the detainees were taken back to court and released into the custody of their lawyers.
- On 25 July, at least 200 NCA activists were arrested by police in Harare after participating in a peaceful march. They were taken from the NCA offices to Harare Central police station where they were severely assaulted by police and unidentified people in plain clothes. Among those assaulted were two elderly women aged 68 and 72 who were singled out for beating by police and accused of “inciting young people to demonstrate against the government”. Six babies were also taken into custody with their mothers. The mothers were singled out and beaten in front of their children. The beatings lasted for about six hours and the activists were released at midnight without charge. The activists were reportedly made to sing revolutionary songs denouncing Morgan Tsvangirai. At least 32 of the activists were later hospitalized and 14 had fractured limbs as a result of the beatings. Among the injured was a 19-month-old baby who had been beaten by police with a baton stick.
Women human rights defenders
Members of the women’s activist organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) were arrested throughout the year after engaging in peaceful protest. WOZA leaders Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were arrested several times and were threatened by police officials. Some of the threats amounted to death threats.
- On 6 June, seven WOZA members were arrested in Bulawayo after participating in a peaceful protest. In solidarity with the seven detainees Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu turned themselves in and were also detained. Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu were charged under the Criminal Codification Act and released on bail on 9 June. WOZA members were also reportedly arrested in other parts of Zimbabwe including Mutare, Masvingo and Filabusi.
- On 1 October about 200 WOZA members were arrested in Bulawayo after taking part in a peaceful march protesting against piece-meal constitutional amendments. They were released without charge.
- On 15 October, 58 WOZA activists peacefully protesting outside parliament in Harare were arrested and detained for nine hours at Harare Central police station. They were released without charge.
- On 6 November police in Harare arrested 98 WOZA members peacefully marching to protest against violence and demanding the repeal of repressive laws such as POSA. The activists were arrested outside parliament by riot police. They were taken to Harare Central police station and released seven hours later without charge.
On 11 March police in Highfield shot and killed NCA activist Gift Tandare who was taking part in a protest prayer meeting organized by the Save Zimbabwe Campaign. No independent investigation was conducted following this incident. Police alleged that Gift Tandare was part of a group which failed to take heed of a police warning to disperse. Police later fired live bullets at mourners during Gift Tandare’s funeral wake, injuring two mourners. State security agents reportedly took his body from a local funeral parlour and forced his relatives to bury it in Mt Darwin at his rural home.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Reports of people being tortured in police custody persisted throughout the year. Many torture victims had been arrested after engaging in peaceful protest or were MDC members accused by police of involvement in alleged terrorism attacks and bombings.
- On and around 28 March police rounded up dozens of MDC workers, activists and senior officials throughout the country, accusing them of terrorist activities and petrol bombings. Most of the detainees were allegedly tortured while in police custody. Thirty-two of those arrested were later charged and detained for between two and four months. Philip Katsande, the MDC’s Harare province secretary for policy and research, was among those arrested. He was shot during arrest as he hid above the ceiling. Police also allegedly assaulted his wife and children during the arrest. He was later taken by police to Parirenyatwa hospital. Paul Madzore, MDC Member of Parliament for Glen View, was arrested by police from his home on 28 March. Police arrested other occupants at his home including children. He was tortured by police at Harare Central police station. Charges against 30 of the detainees were later dropped because of insufficient evidence.
- In June, six men, including a retired army officer, appeared in court accused of plotting a coup. Albert Mugove Mutapo, ex-soldier Nyasha Zivuka, Oncemore Mudzuradhona, Emmanuel Marara, Patson Mupfure and Shingirai Matemachani were reportedly tortured. Their trial was continuing at the end of the year.
Abductions and assaults
MDC members were abducted and assaulted by people suspected of being state security agents.
- On 18 March Nelson Chamisa, MDC Member of Parliament for Kuwadzana, was attacked with iron bars outside Harare International Airport by people believed to be state security personnel. He was on his way to Brussels to attend an EU-ACP joint parliamentary meeting. By the end of 2007, no one had been arrested for this assault.
- In March Last Maengahama, an MDC official, was abducted by suspected state security agents at Borrowdale shopping centre in Harare after attending Gift Tandare’s memorial service. Last Maengahama was bundled into a truck and assaulted before being dumped in Mutorashanga, some 100km from Harare.
- On 18 May Cleopas Shiri, the MDC chairperson for Gweru Urban district, was abducted by four men in a green Mazda 323 car on his way home from work. He was blindfolded and taken to a building where he was tortured, including by having electric rods attached to his toes. After he passed out, his abductors dumped him in the bush. Cleopas Shiri later regained consciousness, managed to reach the road and got a lift to Bulawayo, where he was hospitalized for a month. When he returned to Gweru he found that his house was under surveillance. The surveillance only stopped after he had complained to the police district commanding officer.
- On 22 November, at least 22 NCA members were rounded up by unidentified people and bundled into two minibuses in Harare’s central business district area. They were reportedly taken to ZANU-PF’s Harare provincial offices along Fourth Street where they were beaten on the soles of their feet with sticks and iron bars and ordered to maintain stress positions, including simulating sitting on a chair, for long periods and to roll on the ground. They were later ordered to mop the floor of the room and a toilet with bare hands. After the captors allegedly called the police, the victims were taken to Harare Central police station where police charged them with “obstruction of justice” under the Criminal (Codification and Reform) Act and they were fined. None of the perpetrators was arrested. Ten of the victims required hospital treatment.
Rule of law
In October magistrates and prosecutors went on strike demanding a 900 per cent pay rise. Many judicial officers’ salaries were below the poverty line, which compromised the justice system.
On 6 November Attorney-General Sobusa Gula-Ndebele was arrested on suspicion of “conduct contrary or inconsistent with duties of a public officer”. The arrest followed a reported meeting in September with former National Merchant Bank deputy managing director James Andrew Kufakunesu Mushore, who was wanted by police for foreign currency offences. The Attorney-General was charged with contravening Section 174 (1) of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, cautioned and released. In December President Mugabe suspended the Attorney General and announced the setting up of a three-member tribunal to look into allegations that he had abused his office.
Amnesty International visits/reports
- Amnesty International delegates visited Zimbabwe in February/March, August, October/November and November/December.
- Open letter from Amnesty International’s Secretary General Irene Khan to President Robert Mugabe (AFR 46/006/2007)
- Zimbabwe: End harassment, torture and intimidation of opposition activists (AFR 46/007/2007)
- Call for Africa leaders to speak out against brutality in Zimbabwe (AFR 46/011/2007)
- Zimbabwe: Human rights in crisis – Shadow report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AFR 46/016/2007)
- Zimbabwe: Between a rock and hard place – women human rights defenders at risk (AFR 46/017/2007)
- Zimbabwe: Women at the forefront of challenging government policy face increasing repression (AFR 46/023/2007)