Censorship in Zimbabwe

There are widespread reports of systematic and escalating violations of human rights in Zimbabwe under the Mugabe administration and his party, ZANU-PF.

According to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch the government of Zimbabwe violates the rights to shelter, food, freedom of movement and residence, freedom of assembly and the protection of the law. There are assaults on the media, the political opposition, civil society activists, and human rights defenders.

Opposition gatherings are frequently the subject of brutal attacks by the police force, such as the crackdown on a March 11, 2007 Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) rally. In the events, party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and 49 other opposition activists were arrested and severely beaten by the police. Edward Chikombo, a journalist who sent images of the beatings to foreign media, was abducted and murdered a few days later.[1] After his release, Morgan Tsvangirai told the BBC that he suffered head injuries and blows to the arms, knees and back, and that he lost a significant amount of blood. The police action was strongly condemned by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, the European Union and the United States.[2] While noting that the activists had suffered injuries, but not mentioning the cause of them,[3] the Zimbabwean government-controlled daily newspaper The Herald claimed the police had intervened after demonstrators "ran amok looting shops, destroying property, mugging civilians, and assaulting police officers and innocent members of the public". The newspaper also argued that the opposition had been "wilfully violating the ban on political rallies".[4]

Police repression

There is a widespread consensus among human rights organizations that systematic violations of the right of personal freedom and integrity are frequent in Zimbabwe, especially towards suspected members of the political opposition. The violations are perpetrated by government supporters as well as law enforcement agencies, and include assaults, torture, death threats, kidnappings and unlawful arrests and detentions.

In 1999, three Americans - John Dixon, Gary Blanchard and Joseph Pettijohn - claimed to have been tortured after their arrest. The trial judge accepted their evidence of torture and gave them lenient sentences after their conviction for weapons offences.

In the same year, Robert Mugabe condemned judges at Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court who asked him to comment on the illegal arrest and torture, by state security services, of two journalists, Mark Chavunduka and Ray Choto.

The law enforcement agencies are a major source of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. According to Human Rights Watch there have been a growing number of cases in which police have assaulted and tortured opposition supporters and civil society activists.[5] One notable case was the arrest and subsequent beatings of a group of trade union activists, including the president and secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions,[6] at Matapi police station, following peaceful protests on September 13, 2006. The unionists were initially denied medical and juridical assistance.

Another similar case was the arrest of student activist leader Promise Mkwanazi on May 29, 2006. Mkwanazi was detained at a police station in Bindura for five days without charge. During that time he was repeatedly stripped, shackled and beaten with batons by policemen, who accused him of trying to overthrow the government.He had been the subject of constant police surveillance since 2000 due to his involvement in MDC party rallies and recruitment with assistance from fellow members and former student activists Tafadzwa Takawira and Tendai Ndira, who had also been victims of police brutality, torture and unlawful detention in cells which were of inhuman conditions and poor sanitary standards with non flushing toilets and little air ventilation within the cells.[5]

From 2001 to September 2006 the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum has recorded over 1200 cases of human rights violations by the law enforcement agencies, including 363 cases of torture, 516 cases of assault, 58 cases of death threats, 399 cases of unlawful arrest and 451 cases of unlawful detention. Many of these incidents include multiple victims.[7] The organization finds that the law enforcement agencies are encouraged to perpetrate abuses by statements made by high-ranking members of the ruling party ZANU-PF.

The United States Department of State reported in a Public Announcement dated July 12, 2007 that the situation in Zimbabwe is continuing to deteriorate as public protest against Mugabe and the ZANU-PF increases. Recent government price fixing on all local consumer goods has led to major shortages of basic necessities, leading to violence between desperate citizens and government forces seeking to enforce the restrictions and quell disruptions. The government has continued to reiterate its mandate to eliminate any dissent or opposition to its policies "by any means necessary", including lethal force. It has backed up this statement with random and indiscriminate acts of state-sponsored violence from various security forces on anyone perceived to be an opponent; these attacks often occur without provocation or warning as a form of state terrorism.[8]

Child soldiers

The Government of Zimbabwe trains and sponsors a National Youth Service, known colloquially as the "Green Bombers." The U.S. Department of State describes the Youth Service as a group of undisciplined youths used by the ruling government to suppress political dissent through overt acts of political violence. They are responsible for many of acts of politically motivated violence and are frequently under the influence of government-issued narcotics.[8]

Most of the major parties, including the MDC factions commonly use youths, whom they ply with beer or money as 'campaigners'. These youths are the main driving force behind political violence, such as when Trudy Stevenson was attacked by youths from the rival Tsvangirai faction of the MDC.[9][10] The ages of these youths are not verified, although most of them are post secondary school youngsters who are likely to be older than 18.

Operation Murambatsvina

In May 2005 the government embarked on Operation Murambatsvina, a program of mass forced evictions and demolition of homes and informal businesses in poor urban areas. According to eyewitnesses some people were beaten by the police and in the turmoil several people allegedly lost their life. Examining the result of the operation, Anna Tibaijuka, the UN Special Envoy on Human Settlement Issues in Zimbabwe, reported that some 700 000 people had lost their homes, their livelihoods or both, and that a further 2.4 million people had been affected in varying degrees, stating that the operation "was carried out in an indiscriminate and unjustified manner, with indifference to human suffering, and, in repeated cases, with disregard to several provisions of national and international legal frameworks." The report concluded that the operation violated several key human rights, including the right to life, property and freedom of movement.[11]

Restricted civil liberties

In Zimbabwe the freedom of assembly is severely restricted by law. The legal framework is further stretched in practice, with law enforcement closely monitoring opposition demonstrations and public gatherings. There are many reports of the arrest and subsequent beating of demonstrators. According to the Human Rights Watch report "You Will Be Thoroughly Beaten": The Brutal Suppression of Dissent in Zimbabwe, laws such as the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) and the Miscellaneous Offences Act (MOA) are used to violently disrupt peaceful demonstrations and justify the arrest of civil society activists. In some cases, the activists are held for more than the legally allowed limit, often without charge.[12]

In its 2006 Freedom in the World report, Freedom House finds that Zimbabwe's already very poor freedom of expression and freedom of the press has deteriorated still further. The 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) requires journalists and media companies to register with the government-controlled Media and Information Commission (MIC) and gives the government powers to deny people to work as journalists. An amendment enacted in 2005 introduced prison sentences of up to two years for journalists working without accreditation. Oppositional and independent newspapers have been ordered to close by the authorities, and journalists are intimidated, arrested, and prosecuted, with the support of laws criminalizing the publication of "inaccurate" information. Foreign journalists are regularly denied visas, and local correspondents for foreign publications have been refused accreditation and threatened with deportation. The state controls all broadcast media as well as major dailies such as The Chronicle and The Herald. The coverage is dominated by favorable portrayals of Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party and attacks on government critics. According to Freedom House, the government also monitors e-mail content.[13]

According to the U.S. State Department, a local NGO has quoted State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa as stating the authorities would "not relent in their determination to hound into extinction the country's few remaining alternative sources of information."[14]

While some African election observers deemed the 2005 parliamentary election reflective of the will of the people, the general consensus is that these and prior elections in Zimbabwe have not been free and fair, with widespread electoral fraud. Candidates and supporters of the opposition party, MDC, have been restricted from campaigning openly in some areas, and have faced harassment, violence and intimidation. Government food stocks have been offered to voters in exchange for their votes. The media coverage has been strongly biased in favour of ZANU-PF.[13] On election day, many potential voters, particularly in constituencies dominated by the opposition, were turned away. The main reason for this was that they tried to vote in the wrong constituency due to inadequately publicized redistricting. Election observers also noted voter intimidation at polling stations. In one incident, police took no action when a ZANU-PF candidate threatened to shoot MDC polling agents. Vote reporting discrepancies heavily favoring the ruling party suggest that tolls were manipulated.[14]


Women are disadvantaged in Zimbabwe, with economic dependency and social norms preventing them from combating sex discrimination. Despite legal prohibitions, customs such as forced marriage are still in place. Domestic violence against women is a serious problem. While labor legislation prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace, such harassment is common and generally not prosecuted. While the law recognizes women’s right to property, inheritance and divorce, many women lack awareness of their rights.[14]

President Mugabe has criticized homosexuals, attributing Africa's ills to them. Common law prevents homosexual men, and to a lesser extent homosexual women, from fully expressing their sexual orientation. In some cases it also criminalizes the display of affection between men. The criminal code has been amended to define sodomy to include "any act involving physical contact between males that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act."[14]

Escalating violence during the 2008 national elections

In 2008, parliamentary and presidential elections were held. The Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai, won both the parliamentary election and the first round of the presidential, sparking a run-off in a latter. The three-month campaign between the first and second rounds of the presidential election was marred by increasing violence targeted at MDC supporters. The MDC stated that at least 86 of its supporters -including Gibson Nyandoro and Tonderai Ndira- had been murdered, and that 200,000 others had been forced out of their homes by pro-government militia.[15] The election itself was reportedly marked by mass intimidation, with citizens being forced to vote,[15] and required to show their ballot to government party representatives before placing it in the ballot box.[16]


Marange diamond fields, roughly 90km south west of Mutare.

Zimbabwe's security forces have a torture camp in the Marange diamond fields;[17] methods include severe beatings, sexual assault and dog mauling.[17]

Government response

The government of Zimbabwe has generally responded to accusations of human rights violations from Western countries by counter-accusals of colonial attitudes and hypocrisy, claiming that countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States are guilty of similar or worse transgressions, for example in the Iraq War.

In a speech at the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 21, 2006 Zimbabwe's Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, assured that Zimbabwe would "respect the human rights of all its people". However, he accused "developed countries" of funding local NGOs with the goal of "undermining our sovereignty, creating and sustaining local opposition groups that have no local support base, and promoting disaffection and hostility among the local population against their popularly elected government".[18]

Historical record

Following is Zimbabwe's ratings since 1972 in the Freedom in the World reports, published annually by Freedom House.[19]

Year Political Rights Civil Liberties Status
1972 6 5 Not Free
1973 6 5 Not Free
1974 6 5 Not Free
1975 6 5 Not Free
1976 6 5 Not Free
1977 6 5 Not Free
1978 6 5 Not Free
1979 5 5 Partly Free
1980 4 4 Partly Free
1981 3 4 Partly Free
1982 3 5 Partly Free
1983 4 5 Partly Free
1984 4 5 Partly Free
1985 4 6 Partly Free
1986 4 6 Partly Free
1987 5 6 Partly Free
1988 6 5 Partly Free
1989 6 4 Partly Free
1990 6 4 Partly Free
1991 5 4 Partly Free
1992 5 4 Partly Free
1993 5 5 Partly Free
1994 5 5 Partly Free
1995 5 5 Partly Free
1996 5 5 Partly Free
1997 5 5 Partly Free
1998 5 5 Partly Free
1999 6 5 Partly Free
2000 6 5 Partly Free
2001 6 6 Not Free
2002 6 6 Not Free
2003 6 6 Not Free
2004 7 6 Not Free
2005 7 6 Not Free
2006 7 6 Not Free
2007 7 6 Not Free
2008 7 6 Not Free
2009 6 6 Not Free
2010 6 6 Not Free
2011 6 6 Not Free

See also


External links

  • Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
  • United States Department of State
  • Amnesty International USA with ten years of reports
  • International Trade Union Confederation
  • Amnesty International
  • Freedom House
  • Human Rights Watch
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