BY OBEY MANAYITI
CIVIC society groups and opposition parties yesterday described President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s threatened clampdown on last month’s human rights defenders as shocking and a direct attack on democracy, but vowed to soldier on despite the threats.
Mnangagwa (pictured) told a Zanu PF rally in Mwenezi, Masvingo province on Saturday that his government had started sniffing out human rights lawyers, doctors and nurses who provided medical and legal assistance to hundreds of civilians injured and arrested in a State-sponsored crackdown following last month’s violent protests.
Civic society groups claimed that 17 people died in extra-judicial killings led by the security forces, at least 17 women were raped while over 1 000 others, among them minors, arrested during the clampdown.
At the weekend Mnangagwa confirmed that he was the one who unleashed the security forces on civilians, but denied reports that they were responsible for the killings. Instead, he accused human rights lawyers and doctors, who assisted the victims as part of the regime change plot against his government, adding that the protests were pre-planned.
“We are now going after those doctors, who were involved in those activities. Those lawyers that were inciting violence, we are now going after them. So those who choose violence, we are prepared,” he warned.
But the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said they will not be deterred as they have an ethical obligation to assist those who seek their services.
The doctors said they had noted with concern Mnangagwa’s threats and would soon engage him for clarity.
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“As doctors, our ethical obligation is to treat anyone who needs medical services,” ZADHR said in a statement yesterday.
“For example, even in conflict zones doctors and other humanitarian workers are given safe passage to help those injured. In these sad events, our services were not targeted to protesters, but anyone who fell victim to the skirmishes, ordinary civilians included.
“Our records also show that our doctors didn’t only treat people who were allegedly assaulted by security forces, but also treated people who were allegedly assaulted by protesters.”
Zimbabwe Law Society president, Thandaza Masiye Moyo said they had a professional duty to represent people who engage them for representation.
“What I can assure you is that as far as the Law Society is concerned, we do not choose our clients and we do not discriminate. We represent any person and it is our mandate to represent any person,” Moyo said.
“I think the most important thing is that as legal practitioners, we have a mandate to represent the people and we will simply continue to represent the people. I am not aware of any legal practitioner who incited violence and if there is a case of any who incited violence it should be treated in a normal way like any other mater of a criminal nature.” He added that as a matter of principle, any person was entitled to a lawyer of their chose, hence lawyers will continue to represent everyone regardless of their political affiliation and social standing.
Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum chairperson Jestina Mukoko said they were shocked by Mnangagwa’s threats.
“Those are unfortunate developments and we are just shocked by the statements that we are hearing. I am really not sure where all this is coming from,” she said.
The opposition MDC, which claims the crackdown was aimed at decimating its party membership, described the utterances by Mnangagwa as a sign of a dictator on the prowl.
“We have never heard this in the history of Zimbabwe,” party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said. “This is a new low for Mnangagwa. How do you say people should not be treated when they have been injured for whatever reason?
“Even a convicted criminal is treated if harmed and it is that which makes us human. Life is sacrosanct above all things. This is alarming coming from a supposed Head of State,” Mafume said.
Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation leader Samuel Wadzai said: “As vendors, we expect the government to respect the Constitution. This is the only way to unite the country for economic transformation.
“Threats of coercion and force will further divide the country and obliterate any prospects of economic recovery. At the core of administrative justice is the need to ensure that public bodies and those who exercise public functions make the right decisions. As victims of violations in the past, our concerns include ensuring that decisions and redress mechanisms comply with the rule of law.”