Zimbabwe has once again hit the international headlines — for all the wrong reasons — after the authorities arrested and detained pro-democracy activists in circumstances that grossly undermine constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.
THE ZIMBABWE INDEPENDENT COMMENT
With national elections around the corner, the persecution of human rights defenders is spiralling out of control amid clear indications that the ruling elite will tear the supreme law to shreds if that is what it takes to retain power by all means necessary.
On February 1, Evan Mawarire, #ThisFlag frontman, was arrested at Harare International Airport upon his arrival from the United States. Granting him bail, High Court judge Justice Clement Phiri remarked that “the state case appears to be weak”. A state of siege has been unleashed upon pro-democracy activists.
The intention is crystal clear: to intimidate, victimise, immobilise and silence dissenters. But dissent is not a crime. It is a constitutionally guaranteed birthright.
In this dystopian setting, a harmless cleric “armed” with a Bible is declared an enemy of the nation yet pot-bellied criminals in dapper suits are celebrated as honourable dignitaries.
Human rights group Amnesty International on Wednesday issued a statement urging the Zimbabwean government to uphold the rule of law and drop all politically-motivated charges against Mawarire.
History will record that for 11 long years in the 1960s and 1970s, when President Robert Mugabe languished in Rhodesian jails for his political beliefs, he was feted as “a prisoner of conscience” by international human rights organisations. In a grotesque irony of Mugabe’s chequered legacy, human rights groups are today denouncing the veteran leader for trampling on civil liberties.
Amnesty International , the same organisation which stoutly defended him during the liberation struggle, has condemned his government this week for violating the fundamental rights of Zimbabweans.
What is Mugabe’s excuse? Muleya Mwananyanda, the Amnesty International deputy director for Southern Africa, was blunt in his condemnation: “Pastor Evan Mawarire is being subjected to political persecution through the courts for exercising his freedom of expression. His continued persecution has a chilling effect on peaceful activism in Zimbabwe.”
Medieval tactics of criminalising dissent have no place in the 21st Century. Zimbabwe has a democratic constitution and a justiciable bill of rights.
When a society outlaws peaceful protest, law-abiding citizens are reduced to felons and the seeds of strife are sown. This is a fool proof recipe for stoking public resentment and political turmoil.
It is astonishing that when you talk to Zanu PF officials in private these days, most of them are generally agreed that the ruling party has failed dismally on just about every metric imaginable. In public they are champions of grandstanding, quick to shift blame.
The economy is in tatters, public infrastructure is in decay, university graduates are surviving on street vending, wild grass is growing in factory sheds, and the whole nation is in ruin. Instead of persecuting peaceful protesters, Mugabe’s government should be focussing on the comatose economy.