Zimbabwean authorities yesterday arrested two human rights defenders at the Harare Airport in a mounting onslaught on the rights to freedom of expression and association.
The two, Stabile Dewah (35) and Rita Nyamupinga (61), bring to seven the number of human rights defenders arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport in the past seven days as they returned from a capacity-building workshop on non-violent protest tactics in the Maldives.
“The first five human rights defenders arrested are facing trumped up charges for exercising their human rights. They should be released immediately and unconditionally. The charges against them fit into a much wider pattern of repression we have documented in Zimbabwe,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Southern Africa.
The first batch of activists – George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura, Nyasha Mpahlo and Farirai Gumbonzvanda – have been accused of “plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government”. The two activists arrested today are also likely to be charged with subverting a constitutional government.
“Since January’s protests we have witnessed a mounting crackdown on human rights defenders and activists. Lawyers, journalists and even medical doctors have not been spared. Zimbabwe’s authorities have declared anyone who exercises their right to freedom expression and association an enemy of the state. This witch-hunt must stop,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.
The first four of the human rights defenders were arrested as they disembarked from their flight on 20 May. Farirai Gumbonzvanda was also arrested at the Harare airport on 21 May at around 16:00 hours local time.
Authorities accused them of attending a workshop organised by a Serbian NGO in the Maldives called the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS).
They were formally charged with plotting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government on 21 May and remanded to Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.
Police confiscated their laptops and mobile phones, which were reportedly handed over to the Postal and Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe “for extraction of evidence”. The evidence, including some notes recorded during the meeting, will be produced in court as evidence against the activists.
“Zimbabwean authorities must stop using trumped-up charges to intimidate and harass human rights defenders and civil society leaders. The rights to freedom of expression and association are not just ‘nice to have’ constitutional requirements; they are legal human rights that all Zimbabweans must live and enjoy every day,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.
The rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression have been under attack in the country since January, after fuel price hikes saw the cost of living skyrocket with basic commodities becoming too expensive for the ordinary man.