Zimbabwean police arrest opposition leaders over tweets

Police officers on patrol in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 2019.

Police officers on patrol in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe in 2019.

Photo credit: Zinyange Auntony | AFP

Zimbabwean police have arrested two senior opposition leaders on allegations of communicating falsehoods on Twitter amid fears of a renewed crackdown against government critics.

Fadzayi Mahere, the spokesperson of the mainstream opposition Movement for Democratic (MDC) Alliance, was arrested yesterday while the party’s deputy chairperson Job Sikhala was apprehended on Saturday.

They are being charged alongside prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for tweeting that police had beaten an infant to death while enforcing Covid-19 regulations.

A video allegedly showing a police officer being confronted by a mother carrying the seemingly lifeless baby went viral on social media.

Police later said the baby and the mother were examined by health officials after the incident and it was proved that they were not hurt.

'False statements'

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) said Ms Mahere had been charged with “publishing or communicating false statements prejudicial to the state”.

“She is accused of publishing or communicating a statement intending or realising risk or possibility of inciting or promoting public disorder or public violence or endangering public safety, with alternative charge of undermining public confidence in the law enforcement agency,” said the organisation.

As Ms Mahere was being charged, Mr Chino’ono and Mr Sikhala, who had spent the weekend in custody over similar charges, were being taken to a Harare magistrates’ court for bail hearings.

MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa described the arrests as “arbitrary and abuse of power”.

“The regime is hell-bent on selective application of the law, with the law being weaponised against political opponents and critics,” said Mr Chamisa.

“These arrests on spurious during a severe pandemic are designed to expose political opponents to hazard.

“This is sadistic, heartless and abominable.”

A censure

Last year, the United Nations, the African Union and other bodies censured President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government after it launched a crackdown against opposition and civic society leaders who spoke against corruption.

The opposition says the crackdown has not stopped.

One month ago, police arrested Harare mayor Jacob Mafume, also from MDC Alliance, on corruption allegations. However, the party said he was being targeted for persecution.

During the weekend, his lawyers said he had fallen seriously ill in remand prison and he was exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms.

On bail

Ms Mahere and Mr Sikhala were out on bail after they were arrested in July of last year for their alleged role in protests against rampant corruption.

Mr Chin’ono’s arrest was the third in six months after he was detained twice last year over his tweets that were critical of President Mnangagwa’s administration.

In December of last year, he was freed by the High Court after spending two weeks in remand prison on charges of obstructing justice.

The journalist spent over 40 days in a Harare maximum security prison after he was arrested in July for allegedly inciting protests through Twitter posts.

Mr Chin’ono says he is being persecuted for speaking out against corruption cases where President Mnangagwa’s family was implicated.

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