Rights Groups Worried Over Deteriorating Situation

By Columbus Mavhunga

Rights groups say they are worried about deteriorating human rights in Zimbabwe, as a popular activist spends another weekend in jail after the High Court deferred his bail application ruling until Tuesday.

High Court Justice Tapiwa Chitapi held a bail hearing Friday for activist pastor Evan Mawarire, who is facing subversion charges after leading anti-government protests against a fuel price increase of more than 150 percent.

Mirirai Shumba, the state prosecutor, tried to convince Chitapi that Mawarire would flee if he was granted bail.

“My Lord, the state is opposing bail. It maybe asked: Is there evidence for the applicant to be convicted?” Shumba said. “My Lord, I will refer this honorable court to the transcript of the video upon all this the charges are premised … causing this country be shut down. …”

In the video Mawarire called for Zimbabweans to stay at home under the #ShowdownZim campaign.

Shumba said if granted bail Mawarire could do that again, drawing Justice Chitapi to ask if the state did not have a “default position” that all people arrested should just be denied bail.

Tonderai Bhatasara of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said he was not surprised by what he called tactics to make his client stay longer in prison.

“But we are very hopeful that bail will be granted on Tuesday, Evan will be out by end of day Tuesday. We are hopeful because at the end of the address the state indicated that if the court is not with them, they will willing to make proposals of bail,” he said.

While he is hopeful for Mawarire, that is not the case for more than 700 other protesters arrested on violence charges who have been denied bail thus far.

A group of NGOs called the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition wrote to Namibian President Hage Geingob, the current chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Tabani Moyo, the group’s spokesman, told VOA that rights groups fear the government has instructed courts deny bail to last week’s protesters as part of a crackdown on dissenting voices.

“Our call to the SADC chairperson is: intervene now before this deterioration reaches alarming levels which has serious consequences on the stability of the region itself, as people will be migrating out of the country, destabilizing further neighboring countries. … Hence the SADC chairperson needs to exert his force; weighing on the current crackdown of opposition and civic activists and the militarization of the state. So we are saying intervene now to prevent further calamities,” Moyo said.

On Friday, Amnesty International called on President Emmerson Mnangagwa to ease pressure on civil society leaders, activists, opposition leaders and suspected organizers of the fuel hike protests, some who have gone into hiding, fearing for their lives.

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