Rights lawyers in troubled Zimbabwe warned they were in for “a busy weekend” after dozens of activists were reported arrested in several towns and cities during demonstrations for electoral reforms.
The Tajamuka (We are Agitated) pressure group that has been co-ordinating protests put the total number of arrests at 87, though this has not been independently confirmed.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights called the arrests – which came a day after police in Harare reimposed a controversial ban on protests in the centre of the capital – “a fresh assault on citizens”.
It said people had been arrested in Gwanda, Zvishavane, Mutare, Kadoma and the Harare suburb of Waterfalls. There are also separate claims police have assaulted and injured some protesters, including the MP for Harare’s Glen View suburb, Farai Munengami.
Nelson Chamisa, the vice president of the Movement for Democratic Change of Morgan Tsvangirai claimed in a tweet late on Saturday that Munengami “has [been] detained & badly assaulted by the police. He can’t even sit, swollen face & body”. Chamisa, who is a lawyer, said he was in the Glen View police station.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights named three other MPs that it said were among those detained as residents braved threats from President Robert Mugabe’s government and police, going ahead with their call for electoral reforms ahead of polls in 2018.
As anti-Mugabe sentiment swells in this cash-strapped southern African country, there have been reports that the authorities say they cannot register new voters because they have no money.
The opposition says the longtime president, who is now 92, has rigged his and his Zanu-PF party’s way into power in all elections since 2000. Their fear is that this will happen again.
Those arrested in Gwanda in southern Zimbabwe – 16 of them – were quickly freed without charge, the lawyers’ group said in a statement.
Saturday’s protests were not massive, and neither could they realistically have been expected to be. Activists know what they are in for if arrested or worse still, abducted: few will have missed the disturbing pictures after the alleged torture of activist Sylvanos Mudzvova of Tajamuka this week.
Protest pastor Evan Mawarire, who launched the current mood of protest with his #ThisFlag movement in April, is outside the country with little prospect of a return soon.
Dozens of arrests
He was in New York City for an anti-Mugabe protest on Saturday, as was another (for now still Zimbabwe-based) protest leader Patson Dzamara, the brother of missing activist Itai Dzamara.
Joice Mujuru, the head of opposition party Zimbabwe People First, was not in Zimbabwe on Saturday either.
Ruling party official Psychology Maziwisa said on Twitter: “Happy to announce that the proposed demos scheduled for today by#NERA, #ThisFlag & #Tajamuka have woefully flopped both at home and abroad!”
Dozens of arrests – perhaps as many as 87 – can hardly come out of flopped demonstrations.
But it would be hard not to argue that many Zimbabweans do not have the stomach for protests – and Mugabe’s government is making sure that even fewer will in the future.