Arguably, no country has not been affected by the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. But for Zimbabwe, many believe Covid-19 presented an opportunity for authoritarian regime to use Coronavirus measures and entrench itself while grossly violating fundamental freedoms.
Strict measures characterised by one of Zimbabwe’s tough lockdown which authorities say are meant to slow the spreading of the virus saw majority of Zimbabwe’s 16 million people already suffering a parsimony economy face unprecedented hardships as many got trapped into the city as a result of lockdown which police enforced sometimes mercilessly.
The July 21st dusk to dawn curfew indefinite curfew and strict travel restrictions announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa was resulted into a debate and many critics claimed was regimes effort to curtail opposition and dissenting voices against economic hardships and corruption cases in the country. Indeed, Tendai Biti, the vice president of Zimbabwe’s major opposition party, claims that government’s restrictions had nothing to do with controlling Covid-19 adding that; “It’s madness. You can’t impose a state of emergency, he has no right to declare state of emergency, it’s a serious curtailment of rights. You need parliament [to rectify the declaration].”
Emergency Powers, Political Tensions and Arbitrary Arrests.
Arguably, Covid-19 has provided political leaders especially authoritarian regimes across the globe a rare opportunity to dismiss critics and entrench their leadership through different measures in hiding behind the fight against Coronavirus. In Europe for example, prime minister Viktor Orbán Used the Coronavirus to Seize More Power as he maintained and justified state of emergency rule.
Arguably, Covid-19 has provided political leaders especially authoritarian regimes across the globe a rare opportunity to dismiss critics and entrench their leadership through different measures in hiding behind the fight against Coronavirus. In Europe for example, prime minister Viktor Orbán Used the Coronavirus to Seize More Power as he maintained and justified state of emergency rule, while in the U.S, Trump Administration’s history of attempting to avoid institutional checks left Americans shocked as he used Covid-19 to achieve this. Though the possibility of politicians using coronavirus excuse to grab more power seems to be a global phenomenon, in Africa where institutions lack independence, as was indicated in 2019 Democracy Index which reported half of 44 governments in sub-Saharan Africa as authoritarian with the other 22 categorised as hybrid regimes or flawed democracies, is a clear signal that more African states are likely to use coronavirus for political reasons which analysts argue will hinder democracy and entrench dictatorship.
In Zimbabwe, president Mnangagwa who came to power through a 2017 coup against Robert Mugabe, his regime has used covid-19 measures to deny opposition political space and arrested journalists and critical voices and forced many into hiding — highlighting how a man who came to power promising renewal has in the eyes of the opposition, slipped from bad to worse compared to president Mugabe many linking him to corruption, financial missteps, teetering economy, and authoritarian rule.
Activists and opposition politicians argue that Zimbabweans charged with a form of treason during Mnangagwa’s three years in office is already much higher than during Mugabe’s 37 years tenure, according to research by a coalition of 22 Zimbabwean rights groups, a signal that Mnangagwa is not ready dissenting voices.
By mid-July, over 105,000 had been arrested for what police say they had violated regulations aimed at controlling the spread of the virus which critics deny branding arrests as government’s tricks of using the measures to target the opposition and arrest activists.
International bodies such as United Nations and Human Rights Watch have all criticized politicians in Harare for using Covid-19 to stifle human rights and called on African Union and regional bloc SADC to denounce human rights abuse in Zimbabwe.
Journalist and writers targeted
Journalists and writers have also not been spared as authorities intensify crackdown on critics. Hopewell Chin’ono, a Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker was arrested after exposing corruption in government. He was later charged with incitement to commit public violence and has been severally denied bail while country’s health minister, Obadiah Moyo whose $60 million corruption case Hopewell exposed was granted bail. Mduduzi Mathuthu, an investigative journalist has been in hiding for fear of being arrested for doing his work. Lawyers contend several journalists have been targeted for exposing theft of public funds by some government officials including corruption scheme involving the country’s top officials.
Mathuthu told The Associated Press he decided to hide for he was fearing for his life as many journalists and critics have been detained, or abducted and tortured by state operatives. “The president has labeled us terrorists and has spoken of flushing us out, and that has dark connotations because it gives me a picture of an animal being startled and chased into the open to be killed,” Mathuthu noted. His sounded his fears after Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa’s vowed to continue with the clampdown against those he described as threatening the countries peace and calling his critics “dark forces,” “Opposition terrorists groups” and “a few bad apples” that should be “overcome.”
Zimbabwean Human Rights activists and lawyer, Doug Coltart decried president Mnangagwa’s language tweeting that; “When @edmnangagwa talks of “opposition terrorist groups” destabilizing the country what he means is: •Students carrying the Zimbabwean Flag • Journalists investigating corruption • Nurses asking PPE and a living wage • Citizens exercising their Rights. #ZimbabweansLivesMatter,” while Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa Director, Human Rights Watch investigating Zimbabwe, South Africa, eSwatini and Malawi tweeted photos of alleged “victims abducted & tortured by elements in the Zimbabwe security forces” who visibly looked frail and tortured.
Western diplomats have also consistently accused Harare of poor human rights record. Several western countries including United States of America have amplified their voices against what they described as using covid-19 to stifle human rights and argued president Mnangagwa to keep the inauguration pledge he made in 2018 to respect human rights. The ruling party described diplomats warning as “rubbish” arguing there is no human rights abuse and all those arrested have cases especially violating regulations meant to counter covid-19.
Zimbabwe has registered over 6,388 cases of covid-19 with 195 deaths which includes high profile officials such as agriculture minister Perrance Shiri, army spokesperson among others officials. The country is struggling with cases as health workers protests over poor pay, and lack of personal protective equipment while handling covid-19 cases.
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