By Thabani Zwelibanzi
Amnesty International has raised the alarm at rising repression in Zimbabwe after two more civil society activists were arrested on subversion charges on arrival at the Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Monday.
So far, the police have arrested seven people, with five of them having appeared before a Harare magistrate last week.
Stabile Dewah (35) and Rita Nyamupinga (61) are the latest to be arrested after they returned from a workshop, which Amnesty International describes as a “capacity-building workshop on non-violent protest tactics in the Maldives”, but the government insists the motives of the workshop were much more sinister.
“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,” Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for southern Africa, said.
Mwananyanda said since January, when Zimbabweans protested escalating fuel prices, the government had mounted a 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.”
The Herald newspaper reported that some civil society activists and a journalist from NewsDay had travelled to Maldives were they were learning tactics to unseat the government, a report many viewed as a sign of paranoia among Zimbabwean authorities.
Initially, the state caged George Makoni, Tatenda Mombeyarara, Gamuchirai Mukura and Nyasha Mpahlo. Farirai Gumbonzvanda was arrested a day later when she also disembarked from a plane.
“Zimbabwean authorities must stop using trumped-up charges to intimidate and harass human rights defenders and civil society leaders,” Mwananyanda continued.
“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.”