BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE
Zimbabwe yesterday marked the first anniversary of the 2019 violent anti-fuel price hike protests, with human rights organisations renewing calls for security sector reforms.
Human rights groups recorded more than 17 extra-judicial killings by the security forces during a violent crackdown against the protests, while at least 17 women were raped and sexually violated between January 14 and February 5 last year.
“The atrocities committed are still fresh in the heads of the Zimbabweans. Some are still mourning their deceased relatives and friends; others have permanent bodily and psychological injuries. It is January once more and the nation remembers,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said yesterday.
“The cries of the wounded and dying victims at the hands of excessive force meted out through baton sticks, gunshot wounds and dog bites remain a dark cloud over the human rights record of the nation.”
The rights body said the drivers of the January 2019 protests have remained unaddressed and with the deteriorating economic and political situation, citizens are exposed to more dehumanising conditions.
MDC vice-chairperson Job Sikhala, who represented some of the victims in court, said President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government was worse than that of his predecessor, the late Robert Mugabe.
“During my representation of 188 victims of State persecution who were all acquitted, I observed frightening human rights abuses the accused persons went through under this regime. It was a statement that Zimbabwe is now under a regime worse than that of Robert Mugabe,” Sikhala said.
“There is no justification whatsoever for an accused person, even murderers, to be subjected to (such) gross abuses I witnessed. The world has long changed and governments cannot do whatever they want with their citizens.”
The courts also heard that some of the perpetrators, who were dressed in army uniform, were Zanu PF youths.
Most of the protesters were given blanket convictions as their cases were fast-tracked in violation of their constitutional rights.