By Reuters and TimesLive
Washington: US disappointment with Zimbabwe’s government keeps growing amid the heavy-handed response of authorities to any form of opposition, a senior State Department official said this week, following a crackdown last week against protesters.
“The disappointment just keeps getting worse and worse, unfortunately,” said the official, speaking on background to reporters. “The government seems to be getting even more violent in their response to any form of opposition.”
The official said Washington had made clear to the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa what it would take to improve relations between Zimbabwe and the United States.
US officials have previously called on Mnangagwa to change Zimbabwe’s laws restricting media freedom and allowing protests.
Mnangagwa’s government last week banned anti-government protests by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which accuses the authorities of political repression and mismanaging the economy.
Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds and barred access to the MDC’s Harare offices.
Anger among the population has mounted over triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of US dollars, fuel and bread.
In March, President Donald Trump extended by one year US sanctions against 100 entities and individuals in Zimbabwe, including Mnangagwa, saying his government had failed to bring about political and economic changes.
Meanwhile Amnesty International is reporting that Zimbabwe has become worse during President Mnangagwa’s first year in office.
The report, marking the first anniversary of Mnangagwa coming to power after the fall of Robert Mugabe, catalogues alleged abuses including a crackdown on freedoms and arrests of rights activists in the southern African country.
“What we have witnessed in Zimbabwe since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took power is a ruthless attack on human rights, with the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association increasingly restricted and criminalised,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for southern Africa.
Days after the July 30 election, the army used deadly force to control a demonstration by unarmed civilians protesting a delay in the announcement of the vote results. Six people died and dozens were injured.
In January, the army attacked protesters marching against a hefty fuel price hike, leaving 17 dead over several days, scores injured and hundreds arrested.
A government spokesman was not immediately available to respond to the Amnesty report.
“The government is a product of the party and we as a party are committed to human rights which are guaranteed in the country’s constitution,” said Simon Khaya Moyo, ruling Zanu-PF party spokesman.
Culture of violence
In May, seven human rights defenders were arrested at Robert Mugabe International Airport as they returned from a workshop on non-violent protest tactics in the Maldives.
They were accused of plotting to overthrow the government. They are yet to face trial.
Before a planned opposition protest against a worsening economy earlier this month, several rights activists and opposition members were “abducted, tortured” and dumped by suspected state agents, according to human rights organisations in the country.
The police and the courts subsequently blocked the demonstrations, and security forces beat up a few hundred who turned up in spite of the ban, leaving many injured and more than 100 arrested.
A senior MDC opposition party official Amos Chibaya who was arrested for failing to stop the Harare demonstration was on Monday granted bail by a Harare magistrate.
The abduction and torture of political satire comedian Samantha Kureya by armed men last week showed that violence is “now systematic rather than isolated aberrations”, political analyst and University of Zimbabwe professor Eldred Masunungure told reporters.
Masunungure blamed what he called a culture of violence which started with the colonial government and the struggle to dislodge it.
“Most of the top leadership of the country participated in the armed struggle and they deal with dissent the only way they know how.”
Mnangagwa became Zimbabwe’s second president after the November 2017 military putsch that forced long-time president Mugabe out of power. He won the July 2018 disputed elections and promised a new democracy.
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