Covering events from January - December 2003

There was an escalation in state-sponsored attacks on critics of the government, particularly supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Incidents of illtreatment and torture were reported throughout the year. Hundreds of people were detained for holding political meetings or peaceful political protests. Journalists were harassed and detained, and a leading private newspaper was shut down. Political manipulation of food aid by officials and supporters of the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) continued. The food situation remained critical.

Background

In March the Commonwealth upheld Zimbabwe's suspension from its governing councils until the December Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Abuja, Nigeria. At the December meeting, Commonwealth leaders voted to maintain the suspension and Zimbabwe withdrew from the organization. In May the heads of state of South Africa, Nigeria and Malawi visited Zimbabwe in an attempt to mediate talks between the MDC and ZANU-PF. The country's economic situation steadily deteriorated, with rampant inflation and unemployment, and critical shortages in basic food commodities, fuel and cash.

In July President Mugabe announced in Parliament plans to introduce legislation to govern non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and to amend the National Council for Higher Education Act. There were concerns that the proposed laws would further restrict the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

The government reportedly established training camps throughout the country for youth militia members, increasing concerns about the use of youth militia to carry out serious human rights violations against the government's perceived political enemies. Four men convicted of murder and sentenced to death were hanged in June.

Elections

Local council, mayoral and parliamentary byelections were the occasion for increased intimidation and politically motivated violence by government forces and supporters, mostly against opposition supporters.

  • Parliamentary by-elections in March in Kuwadzana and Highfield, two suburbs in the capital, Harare, were marred by violence. State-sponsored militia, police and ruling party supporters harassed and attacked MDC candidates and supporters.
  • During local council, mayoral and parliamentary by-elections on 30 and 31 August, ZANU-PF supporters armed with catapults, stones and iron bars intimidated polling agents and MDC supporters by blocking approaches to the polling stations.

On 3 November the petition filed by the MDC in April 2002 challenging the results of the March 2002 presidential election was heard in the High Court. No ruling in the case had been given by the end of 2003.

Impunity

The perpetrators of human rights violations continued to enjoy impunity, and allegations against state agents remained without investigation. The majority of abuses were committed by ruling party supporters and police, security and army officers against opposition supporters.

  • In July, Henry Dowa, a Zimbabwean police officer serving with the UN civilian police force (Civpol) in Kosovo, was accused of committing and directing torture while working at Harare Central police station. He returned to Zimbabwe in October after a UN internal inquiry into the allegations. It was not known whether disciplinary action was taken.

Threats to the independence of the judiciary

The authorities continued to harass, intimidate and force out of office magistrates and judges who handed down judgments perceived to be in support of the political opposition.

  • On 17 February Justice Benjamin Paradza, a High Court judge, was arrested on charges of attempting to obstruct the course of justice and contravening the Prevention of Corruption Act in connection with a case allegedly involving a business partner. He was detained in a police cell for a night before being released on bail the next day by a magistrates' court. It appeared that he was arrested because, in January, he had ordered the release of Elias Mudzuri, the Executive Mayor of Harare and an MDC member, arrested with 21 town councillors and municipal workers and charged with holding an unauthorized political meeting. In September the Supreme Court ruled that Justice Paradza's arrest was unlawful and unconstitutional. The charges against Elias Mudzuri were later withdrawn.

Attacks on the political opposition

Police carried out widespread arrests of opposition members and supporters following MDC-led mass national protests.

  • MDC spokesperson Paul Themba Nyathi was arrested on 8 April and charged in connection with a nationwide stay-away organized by the MDC on 18 and 19 March. He was released on 11 April and all charges were withdrawn.

In August charges against two co-accused in the treason trial of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai – Welshman Ncube, MDC Secretary-General, and Renson Gasela, an MDC member of parliament – were dismissed for lack of evidence. The trial resumed for one day on 2 December after a four-month recess. The three men had been charged with treason in March 2002 for allegedly plotting to assassinate President Mugabe, charges they denied.

Torture, ill-treatment and unlawful killings

Police officers were implicated in torture, ill-treatment and unlawful killings, mostly of MDC supporters.

  • On 15 January the police arrested Job Sikhala, an MDC member of parliament, Gabriel Shumba, a lawyer with the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, and MDC supporters Bishop Shumba, Taurai Magaya and Charles Mutama. All five were reportedly tortured in police custody. Medical examinations later revealed that Job Sikhala and Gabriel Shumba had injuries consistent with electric shocks to their genitals, mouth and feet. Both had reportedly been forced to drink urine. In February, charges of treason against the five were dismissed by the Harare High Court for lack of evidence.
  • MDC activist Tonderai Machiridza was reportedly kicked and hit with truncheons and handcuffs by police officers on 13 April. The same day police officers took him to a hospital in Harare where he was kept chained to the bed under police surveillance. On 17 April a judge ordered his release on bail and he was moved to a private hospital, where he died of his injuries on 18 April.

Repression of freedom of association and assembly

Police arrested hundreds of activists, including trade union leaders and civil society leaders, following a number of peaceful protests. Most were charged with violations under the 2002 Public Order and Security Act (POSA).

  • Following the national stay-away organized by the MDC in March, the police arrested hundreds of opposition supporters and human rights activists. Many were beaten and tortured in police custody. Approximately 130 people were charged with inciting violence and acts of "terrorism" and later released on bail. Gibson Sibanda, MDC Vice-President, was arrested on 31 March and charged with treason, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, after the authorities accused him of trying to overthrow the government by inciting people to join the stay-away. He was released on bail on 7 April. No trial date had been set by the end of 2003.
  • Up to 200 trade union activists were arrested throughout the country on 8 October following protests against high taxes and inflation. In Harare, Lovemore Matombo and Wellington Chibebe, President and Secretary General respectively of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and more than 50 union activists were arrested to prevent them organizing a protest. Some were charged with public order offences under Section 7 of the POSA and released to await trial on 9 October.

Update

  • In June charges against Raymond Majongwe, Secretary-General of the Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe, were withdrawn for lack of evidence. He had been arrested in October 2002 and charged under the POSA with encouraging teachers to strike.

Crack-down on the media

The 2002 Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) was used in an attempt to silence journalists. Members of the private and foreign media were subjected to harassment, arbitrary detention and attacks.

  • On 18 March, Philimon Bulawayo, a photographer with the Daily News, Zimbabwe's leading privately owned newspaper, was arrested and reportedly assaulted by police for attempting to cover the March stay-away. He was later released without charge.
  • On 16 May, Andrew Meldrum, a US national and journalist with the United Kingdom-based Guardian newspaper, was held incommunicado for several hours before being forcibly and illegally deported by the Zimbabwean authorities, despite a High Court order that he should not be deported.
  • In September the police shut down the Harare offices of the Daily News the day after the Supreme Court ruled that the newspaper was publishing illegally because it had not registered with the state-controlled Media Information Commission (MIC), a requirement of the AIPPA. Twenty journalists were arrested, charged with working without media accreditation and released on bail. After the MIC refused registration, on 24 October the Administrative Court ordered it to issue a licence. However, after the newspaper published an edition on 25 October, police again closed down its offices, arrested five of the newspaper's directors and charged them with publishing a newspaper without a licence. All were released on bail. Justice Michael Majuru, the Administrative Court judge who presided over the Daily News appeal against closure, was forced to step down in November after he was accused of bias by the state-owned Herald newspaper.

Human rights defenders

The work and safety of human rights defenders continued to be threatened as government authorities clamped down on critics.

  • In August the MIC was reported to have accused the non-governmental Media Institute of Southern Africa of operating illegally and to have threatened its members with jail if they continued to refuse to register.
  • On 12 October human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa was alleged to have been severely beaten by police officers when she called for assistance after thieves tried to break into her car. She was reportedly punched and kicked all over her body, sustaining severe bruising and cuts to her face, throat, arms and legs. She had previously represented journalist Andrew Meldrum (see above) and the Daily News.

Food shortages

The authorities and state-sponsored militia continued to deny people access to food aid based on real or perceived political affiliation, and used food aid to buy votes during parliamentary by-elections. In July the government formally appealed for continued food aid from UN agencies. On 7 November the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that food security remained critical in the rural and urban areas of Zimbabwe, where most people had only limited access to food. Also in November the World Food Programme warned that Zimbabwe's food crisis was set to worsen in the coming year.

AI country visits

AI delegates visited Zimbabwe in January to carry out researc

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