Zimbabwe’s president has labelled the main opposition party “terrorist” and vowed to continue a crackdown on his opponents.
Several opposition members and government critics have been arrested in recent days and rights groups allege security forces have carried out illegal abductions.
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Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights says it has represented more than 20 people detained since last week, when the military and the police thwarted an anti-government protest that had been scheduled for Friday.
In an address on state television Tuesday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa described critics as “a few bad apples” that should be “overcome” and indicated that arrests would continue.
“We will overcome attempts at the destabilisation of our society by a few rogue Zimbabweans acting in league with foreign detractors,” he said, warning that “bad apples who have attempted to divide our people and to weaken our systems will be flushed out … Enough is enough.”
Mnangagwa made the speech as local and international pressure mounted on his administration over allegations of human rights abuses.
The hashtag #Zimbabweanlivesmatter has been used in social media to draw attention to the wave of arrests.
Fadzayi, Tsitsi, Julie, Terrence, Loveridge, and all the others in Zimbabwe’s protest may God give you strength and courage in your pursuit of freedom. #ZimbabweanLivesMatter
— Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (@MaEllenSirleaf) August 4, 2020
Security agents were deployed in the capital, Harare, and other major cities last week to foil the protest planned for Friday, resulting in empty streets that day.
Some people who tweeted in support of the demonstrations or who tried to hold low-key protests were arrested, and some were assaulted and tortured, according to human rights groups and Tendai Biti, spokesman for the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance.
Biti told AFP news agency the situation had become “untenable”.
He condemned the government for “closing political space”, engaging “massively in corruption” and “abusing the constitution”.
“We are at a tipping point, something is going to give,” Biti said, warning that another military coup could be “around the corner”.
Investigative journalist Hopewell Chin’ono has been in jail for two weeks after he posted on social media in support of the anti-government demonstration and made a series of allegations of government corruption.
Chin’ono awaits a bail hearing this week. Internationally known author Tsitsi Dangarembga was bailed on charges of inciting public violence after staging a small protest. Journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu and several members of the MDC Alliance are in hiding
Amnesty International has meanwhile condemned what it calls the “witch-hunt and repression of peaceful dissent”.
Zimbabwean human rights activist Jestina Mukoko deplored the lack of accountability among both government and police forces.
“We are suffering repression and criminalisation of our rights work,” she said, adding that democracy had been “compromised”.
Mnangagwa came to power after longtime ruler Robert Mugabe was removed from office in a 2017 military takeover.
The president, who won a disputed election in July 2018, pledged to revive the country’s economy by attracting foreign investment.
But popular discontent has grown as the economy implodes. Inflation is more than 700 percent, the second-highest in the world, while the World Food Programme has projected that 60 percent of the population could be food insecure by the end of the year.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought a new layer of suffering, and critics have accused Mnangagwa of using COVID-19 as a cover to crack down on dissent.
In his speech, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe’s security forces would not relent.
“Security services will carry out their duties with appropriate astuteness and resolve. The protection of the right to life is paramount, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and machinations by the destructive terrorist opposition groupings,” he said.
Mnangagwa pledged to fight corruption and fix the collapsing economy, whose poor performance he blamed on “divisive politics of some opposition elements, illegal economic sanctions, cyclones, droughts and more recently the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.”