'Police should be probed over Arnold farm conduct'

HARARE - The government must urgently investigate State police conduct at Anorld farm in Mazowe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said.

This comes after riot police harassed, beat up and illegally removed 200 families off the farm in Mazowe, Mashonaland Central province, in a farm seizure believed to be linked to President Robert Mugabe’s family.

The police have also been alleged to be illegally tearing down homes at Arnold Farm, leaving hundreds of people homeless and destitute in heavy rains and cold weather.

Residents have occupied the farm for 17 years, and HRW Southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga said any process to evict them should respect their rights and follow due process.  “The government should urgently intervene in the Arnold Farm case to stop the on-going violation of court orders and abuses,” Mavhinga said.

About 100 riot police began demolishing homes at Arnold Farm on March 17 this year, forcing residents onto trucks and dumping them by the roadside 40 kilometres away.

The rights group said they made efforts to contact lawyers who represent the Mugabes, as well as provincial affairs and police officials, but did not receive any reply to questions regarding the ownership of Arnold Farm and the conduct of the police.

“The police affirmed in a court filing that the Arnold Farm ...which the families have occupied since 2000, is owned by the president’s family,” the HRW report said.

“The farm residents obtained a High Court order to stop the evictions, and barred the police from harassing them by demolishing their homes or attempting to evict them without a valid court order. The police told lawyers representing the farm residents they were acting on the orders of their ‘superiors’ but did not have a High Court order approving the eviction, as required by the law.

“Many families have lost their crops and livestock during the demolitions and now live and sleep in the open with no protection from the rain and cold. Police harassment has prevented the families from harvesting their corn, sugar beans, and groundnuts crops.”

When a Human Rights Watch team visited Arnold Farm on May 9, they witnessed four uniformed and armed riot police and six people in civilian clothes demolish homes and destroy property belonging to farm residents.

HRW said it interviewed five men whom the police had beaten on the soles of their feet that day for refusing to leave the farm.

The Arnold farm villagers were also arrested for refusing to move from the farm for trespassing.

According to the HRW, police cordoned off the area and  set up entry and exit checkpoints as well as patrols on the farm.

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