Sunday, 20 November 2016

WESTERN EMBASSIES DEMAND TORTURE PROBE

Western embassies and rights watchdogs delivered one of their sharpest attacks on authorities after the alleged abduction of at least six anti-government activists ahead of a planned protest on Friday, saying that President Robert Mugabe’s regime was systematically persecuting the opposition and civil society and demanding a criminal probe.

Using some of their strongest language so far, the European Union (EU) delegation in Zimbabwe and the United States (US) embassy in Harare condemned the government’s actions, including the arrest of pro-democracy campaigners Advocate Fadzai Mahere, Pastor Patrick Phillip Mugadza, Mudiwa Mahere, Henry Munangatire, Barry Rowlings, Sean Mullens, Talent Chademana, Thobekile Ncube and Nyasha Musandu at Africa Unity Square in central Harare on Friday.


The activists appeared in court yesterday, charged with participating in a gathering with the intention to promote public violence, breaches of the peace, bigotry and disorderly conduct by displaying placards inscribed with protest messages against the imminent introduction of bond notes. They were freed on bail.

This came after prominent human rights activist Patson Dzamara, the young brother of missing journalist Itai Dzamara and three other activists were abducted, severely tortured and left for dead in the wee hours of Thursday night by suspected State security agents ahead of their mass demonstration,  provoking outrage from rights groups and the international community.

Rights defenders who were with Dzamara fled in the mayhem and the armed men proceeded to blindfold him and bundled him into a truck before savaging him and setting their vehicles ablaze.

The EU, a vocal critic of the crackdown on opposition protesters and journalists, called on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the incidents, and to prosecute those who were responsible for the human rights violations.

Zimbabwe, which is under US and EU sanctions over electoral theft and similar clampdowns, has cried out loud as a victim of western vilification, double standards and what the 92-year-old Mugabe has repeatedly called “rank hypocrisy.”

The EU called on the authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into the incidents, and to prosecute those who were responsible for the human rights violations which they said were in violation of the fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in Chapter 4 of the Zimbabwe Constitution.

“The government of Zimbabwe is responsible for the protection of its citizens from abduction and torture, regardless of their political opinions,” the EU member States and the Swiss mission in Harare said in a damning statement.

“Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are essential elements of the bilateral relations between the EU and Zimbabwe. Sustainable peace, development and prosperity cannot exist without respect for human rights and freedoms. Those principles underpin all internal and external policies of the European Union.”

The US embassy also issued a strong declaration of condemnation, saying it was deeply disturbed and saddened by the abduction, assault, and harassment of civil society leaders and it illustrates the tragic deterioration of security and the rule of law in Zimbabwe over the last several months.

US ambassador Harry K Thomas Junior visited Dzamara on Friday at a local clinic where he is hospitalised to check on his wellbeing and to share president-elect Donald Trump’s concerns, and to show Washington’s support for the rights of the activists and those of all Zimbabweans.

“The US remains concerned about Zimbabwe’s deteriorating human rights record, which includes the continued harassment, arrests, and ongoing detention of civil rights leaders, political activists, and journalists demanding economic and political reforms,” Thomas Jr said.

“In many cases, these individuals have been assaulted and denied access to adequate health care. Some have been detained for extended periods and reportedly been subjected to torture, while the disappearance of some activists, including Itai Dzamara, who disappeared on March 9, 2015, remain unresolved. These actions are in contravention of Zimbabwe’s international commitments.

“The US supports the freedoms of speech and assembly, and we call on the government of Zimbabwe to respect the human rights of all Zimbabwean citizens, and to uphold its laws and international commitments.”

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) called upon the Zimbabwean government to bring to justice those responsible for this outrageous crime and demonstrate that lawlessness and impunity will not be tolerated.

“ZLHR calls upon the minister of Home Affairs (Ignatius Chombo), commissioner-general of ...police (Augustine Chihuri) to bring to account those persons responsible for the abduction, and torture of the rights defenders and the violation of their fundamental rights because ignoring it will perpetuate impunity and reinforce the belief that the perpetrators of such heinous crimes are above the law,” the rights lawyers said in a statement.

The abductions and arrests are the latest in an ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders which has drawn international condemnation and led to questions about Mugabe’s pledges to uphold the rule of law and build a freer society.

The rights group reminded the government of its legal obligations under several international and African human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), which it needs to respect.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the authorities of serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and illegal punishment.

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