A gay rights activist was arrested because of his human rights work. The security forces ill-treated citizens, killing at least 10 people during and after demonstrations and rioting. Two prisoners were executed and more than five were sentenced to death. Police assaulted at least 50 refugees.

In January there were demonstrations and riots over food price rises, and civic society groups launched a forum to discuss constitutional reform. In March trade unions organized a nationwide strike against tax and price rises for staple foods. The authorities declared the action illegal, threatened reprisals and ordered state-run news media not to report on union activities. There were further strikes in November. A temporary ban was decreed in November to prevent trade unions and employees' organizations from inciting or participating in mass strikes against government policies. By the end of the year, human rights organizations and trade unions had challenged the constitutionality of the ban in court.

Student demonstrations against corruption and for greater state assistance began in March and led to clashes on and off campus. The University of Zimbabwe and Harare Polytechnic were closed indefinitely in June. Student protests continued nationwide in July and August.

In February members of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (zanu-pf) party threw a petrol bomb at opposition member of parliament Margaret Dongo, who escaped injury. Police failed to investigate immediately, but later arrested four zanu-pf supporters. It emerged in April that two police officers who failed to intervene in the June 1997 assault by zanu-pf supporters against Fidelis Mhashu, an opposition mayoral candidate, had been suspended.

In March, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about Zimbabwe's discrimination against homo-sexuals and reports of the excessive use of force by the security forces during the January food riots. In April President Robert Mugabe attacked the World Council of Churches for allowing homosexuals to attend their general assembly in Harare, and in May he said that the Constitution guaranteed freedom, "except for gays".

The government sent 10,000 Zimbabwean troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to assist President Laurent-Désiré Kabila from April onwards. Zimbabwean warplanes reportedly bombed civilian targets and Zimbabwean troops killed civilians during indiscriminate shelling in an intervention that faced growing opposition inside Zimbabwe. (See DRC entry.) In October, a police sergeant was reportedly arrested for criticizing Zimbabwe's involvement in the DRC.

Gay rights activist Keith Goddard of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe was arrested in June and charged with committing forcible sodomy at gunpoint, apparently to curb his legitimate human rights activities. He faced up to seven years' imprisonment if convicted. He remained at liberty, pending appeal. In July a Catholic priest in Bulawayo was sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment, half of which was suspended, after being convicted of consensual sodomy. He was a prisoner of conscience.

At least 20 people were shot by the police and army and at least nine fatally injured, after demonstrations that began on 19 January in Harare developed into rioting and spread across the country. On 20 January the army was deployed with orders to shoot to kill. Afterwards, the army with police support assaulted residents of townships around Harare and threw tear gas into homes. Almost 1,000 people were detained without bail, creating dangerous overcrowding in jails and remand centres. Some detainees were beaten and ill-treated in custody. During protests in the eastern city of Mutare in November, police shot dead bystander Clever Gunda in what appeared to be an extrajudicial execution.

Riot police blocked student demonstrations using tear gas and batons, despite a court order allowing a demonstration to take place. In April police shot and injured student More-Memories Chawira during a non-violent demonstration at the University of Zimbabwe. Police authorities admitted that the police officer had over-reacted and said that he faced criminal prosecution.

Two men – Nyenyai Mudenge and George Chikwamure – were executed in April for murder. More than five people were sentenced to death during the year for murder and at least seven people had their death sentences confirmed by the Supreme Court.

In August police beat at least 50 refugees who staged a sit-in protest for several days at the Harare offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many, including young children, were injured and required hospital treatment. Two of the refugees, whose grievances included lack of assistance and harassment by security agents, were reportedly arrested by the police, although the authorities denied this. No investigation into this incident was reported.

In January Amnesty International condemned a statement by the Minister of Home Affairs that the army would shoot looters or "troublemakers", and appealed to President Mugabe to ensure that human rights were not violated while the army and police restored order. In March Amnesty International and local human rights groups informed the UN Human Rights Committee of concerns in Zimbabwe. In July Amnesty International asked the authorities to drop the charges against Keith Goddard.

In September Amnesty International called upon President Mugabe, as chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, to ensure that SADC member states involved in the conflict in the DRC adhered to international humanitarian standards. Amnesty International called on the SADC to halt any transfers of military, security or police equipment to the conflicting parties that might contribute to further human rights violations.

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