Hundreds detained in Zimbabwe protests as UN denounces crackdown

Fatalities as security forces use violence to quell unrest over 150% fuel price hike

Pastor and activist Evan Mawarire arrives to appear in court in Harare, Zimbabwe. He  faces charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government. Photograph: Aaron Ufumeli

Pastor and activist Evan Mawarire arrives to appear in court in Harare, Zimbabwe. He faces charges of subverting a constitutionally elected government. Photograph: Aaron Ufumeli

 

Hundreds of Zimbabweans arrested during anti-government protests were detained on Friday on public order charges, as the United Nations urged an end to a brutal security crackdown and an internet blackout.

The government has said three people died during the unrest that broke out on Monday after President Emmerson Mnangagwa raised fuel prices by 150 per cent. Lawyers and activists say the toll was much higher and that security forces used violence and carried out mass arrests to quell the unrest.

Among about 400 people charged by magistrates on Friday was pastor Evan Mawarire, a rights activist who rose to prominence as a critic of Robert Mugabe’s rule and led a national protest in 2016.

He will stand trial on more serious charges of subverting the government after encouraging Zimbabweans via social media to heed a strike call from unions. His lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa said she would lodge a high court appeal for him to be released on bail. Pastor Mawarire faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

The internet was blacked out for much of the day, until authorities began gradually lifting a ban that had disabled some electronic communications in the country since Tuesday.

Intimidation and harassment

In Geneva, the UN human rights office called on the government to halt the crackdown and denounced allegations of “generalised intimidation and harassment” of protesters.

As life returned to a semblance of normality in Harare, civilians ventured outside to stock up on food and other supplies while police continued to patrol the streets.

Jacob Mafume, spokesman for the main Movement for Democratic Change opposition party, said he feared the web blackout was a prelude to more violence. “The world must quickly step in to remove this blanket of darkness that has been put on the country,” he said earlier in the day.

Authorities have yet to respond to the allegations of a crackdown, but many Zimbabweans believe Mnangagwa – a former Mugabe ally – is falling back on his predecessor’s tactics by using intimidation to crush dissent.

The president has also failed to make good on pre-election pledges to kickstart the ailing economy – beset by high inflation and a currency shortage, and the trigger for this week’s protests.

Referring to allegations of night-time door-to-door searches against demonstrators and beatings by police, UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said hospital medics had treated more than 60 people for gunshot wounds. “This is not way to react to the expression of economic grievances by the population,” she said. – Reuters