Civic groups yesterday accused government of muzzling them and using unconventional ways to silence them following the arrest of four activists at Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport on Monday night on allegations of plotting subversion.
This came at a time when the government is in panic mode over the rising cost of living and the ever-worsening economic situation in the country.
The four are Tatenda Mombeyarara from Citizens Manifesto, George Makoni (Centre for Community Development in Zimbabwe-CCDZ), Nyasha Frank Mpahlo (Transparency International-Zimbabwe) and Gamuchirai Mukura from COTRAD.
Their arrest followed State media allegations that some people from civic society organisations were undergoing training to cause havoc in the country.
“We remain worried that the police, government officials and State media have been colluding to criminalise the work of human rights defenders laying unfounded allegations against civil society leaders as agents of regime change who want to topple the government,” Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition said.
“The continued harassment of civil society leaders has seen a worsening of Zimbabwe’s human rights record and runs counter to efforts at international re-engagement.”
The government and civil society organisations have had frosty relations in the past, with the State accusing the latter of trying to cause civil unrest in the country, an accusation that the organisations strongly deny.
According to the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), the four were held for several hours without communication with their lawyers after authorities reportedly confiscated their mobile phone handsets and laptops.
“Zimbabwean authorities refused to allow lawyers representing the four human rights activists access to their clients,” ZLHR said.
“The lawyers, Roselyn Hanzi, Tinomuda Shoko and Godfrey Mupanga, from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, only had access to their clients at Harare Central Police Station after nearly five hours from the time the human rights campaigners were in incommunicado detention at the airport.
“At Harare Central Police Station, Zimbabwe Republic Police officers only waved a search warrant in the lawyers’ faces without giving them access to the document.”
CCDZ said the arrest showed that nothing had changed to improve the human rights situation in the country.
“The arrest of civic society leaders once again shows that the human rights situation in Zimbabwe in the so-called ‘new dispensation’ has not changed,” the organisation said.
Human rights defender, Vivid Gwede described the arrests as harassment.