Zimbabwe police on Monday severely assaulted and detained photojournalist Angela Jimu, MDC-T MP Ronia Bunjira and several MDC-T youths during a peaceful demonstration for jobs, sparking outrage from human rights defenders and media organisations.
Jimu, a photojournalist with The Zimbabwe Mail, was assaulted and detained in the morning for taking pictures of the police while pouncing on MDC-T youths who were marching demanding that the Zanu PF government delivers on its 2,2 million jobs promised in the run-up to last year’s elections.
She suffered injuries and was released late in the day.
Lawyer Obey Shava, of Mbidzo, Muchadehama and Makoni Legal Practitioners, last night confirmed that seven of his clients from the MDC-T had been arrested while staging a peaceful demonstration.
“I am not sure whether they will be released or not, but their condition is bad,” he said.
The violent clampdown came as Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) Heads of State and Government were gathered in the resort town of Victoria Falls for a summit that saw President Robert Mugabe taking over the bloc’s chairmanship.
MDC-T youth assembly spokesperson Clifford Hlatywayo said the development was “shameful” to a country holding an important regional summit.
“We were demonstrating along Julius Nyerere [Way] turning into Nelson Mandela [Avenue] when police came in their numbers and started beating up people. It is our right as citizens to demonstrate and when we are beaten up, it shows the authorities have no respect for our democratic rights,” Hlatywayo said. “Sadc should know and see that because of this, Mugabe is not fit to be a leader of the regional group and should reverse that.”
Media organisations and human rights defenders condemned the attack on Jimu and MDC-T youths, saying it was “unjust and unconstitutional”.
Media Institute of Southern Africa-Zimbabwe chapter national director Nhlanhla Ngwenya said the action by police was “barbaric and should be strongly condemned”.
“Just like any other organisation that values freedom of expression and freedom of the media, we strongly condemn this act which to us is not only barbaric, but reflects the continued repressive law that the Zimbabwean media is confronted with,” Ngwenya said.
“It comes at a time Sadc is meeting in Zimbabwe and pretending that all is well. The irony of it all is that it comes at a time the regional bloc has washed its hands on Zimbabwe on the pretext that under the new constitutional dispensation, all was well and this exposes the fallacy of that belief.”
He called for the immediate release of Jimu and that the State should pay for her medical bills.
MDC-T Harare provincial spokesperson Obert Gutu said the move by the police confirmed that Zimbabwe was “a police state”.
“This is typical of a police state; a fully-fledged fascist and totalitarian government. The youths have a constitutional right to engage in a peaceful demonstration and this is precisely what they did,” Gutu said.
“This is a total embarrassment to the Sadc leaders who are busy wining and dining in the resort town of Victoria Falls while the government run by the new Sadc chairperson is unleashing wanton violence upon its own people. So much for regional solidarity.”
Zimbabwe Union of Journalists president Michael Chideme said the union was shocked by the harassment of journalists and would engage authorities to put an end to this.
“We have persistently condemned any form of harassment of journalists as this compromises their safety. Such levels of intolerance and disrespect of the integrity of journalists and media practitioners are totally unacceptable,” Chideme said.
Police provincial spokesperson Inspector Tadious Chibanda claimed he was yet to receive information about what transpired as he was out of office.
“I am yet to receive the information. I am not in the office now, but you can check with [national police spokesperson] Chief Superintendent [Paul] Nyathi,” Chibanda said.
Nyathi was not picking up calls.