Court orders police and state intelligence agency to find Itai Dzamara, a prominent dissident of President Robert Mugabe who was kidnapped on Monday
Fears are growing for the safety of a political activist in Zimbabwe reported to have been abducted by five unidentified men almost a week ago and bundled into an unmarked truck near his home.
The country’s high court on Friday ordered police and the state intelligence agency to search for Itai Dzamara, a former journalist who last year staged sit-in protests demanding the resignation of President Robert Mugabe.
Dzamara’s disappearance echoes the darkest days of Zimbabwe’s political instability and has raised concerns of a fresh crackdown on political opponents, civil society activists and journalists.
After his abduction on Monday, his wife approached the high court in Harare to force the police and the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to search for her husband. During the hearing, the police and CIO denied knowledge of Dzamara’s whereabouts.
Judge David Mangota ordered the police minister, commissioner-general of police and head of CIO “to do all things necessary to determine his whereabouts”, including advertising on all state media.
Mangota said detectives should work with Dzamara’s lawyers “to search for [Dzamara] at all such places as may be within their jurisdiction”, and report progress to the court.
Zimbabwean state security agents are notorious for abducting activists opposed to 91-year-old Mugabe’s rule and later turning them over to the police. Some of the activists have alleged being tortured, claims which the government has denied.
State-sponsored violence in Zimbabwe has significantly reduced since more than 200 people were killed during the disputed 2008 elections. But many campaigners speak of a “hidden crisis” in which intimidation continues and freedoms are curtailed along with widespread poverty and joblessness.
But on Friday, a group of 83 civil society organisations demanded the immediate release of Dzamara, a respected journalist and pro-democracy activist. The collective said it would otherwise lobby the African Union and Southern African Development Community to remove Mugabe as chairperson.
“Undemocratic actions, such as abductions, intimidation and torture by the state against activists, are disheartening when the lives of the Zimbabweans are becoming even more difficult due to the government’s failure to arrest the worsening socio-economic challenges in the country,” the group said.
Foreign diplomats have also asked the government to ensure Dzamara’s safety. “The US embassy notes with grave concern the reports of the forced disappearance of civil society activist Itai Dzamara on March 9, 2015,” a statement said. “If he is being held in state custody, it is vital that his fundamental human rights and freedoms as guaranteed by Zimbabwe’s constitution be honoured.”
The EU urged the government to “take all necessary measures to ascertain Mr Dzamara’s whereabouts”, calling for a probe into the disappearance.
Morgan Tsvangirai, former prime minister and leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said his party feared “the worst”, as previous activists who were reported kidnapped were later found dead.
Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa told parliament this week Dzamara was not being held by the state and that law enforcement agencies were searching for him.