Civic leaders, MPs flee govt terror

HARARE - Dozens of MDC officials and civic society leaders have gone into hiding as there is no let up by government against pro-democracy and political activists it accuses of being part of last week’s crippling strike.

Despite the withering criticism of  government by the international  community, security forces were at the weekend accused of abducting relatives of opposition figures and civic society leaders — ostensibly to force them to reveal their whereabouts — although the authorities deny this.

At the weekend suspected security agents allegedly stormed the home of Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiCZ) chairperson Rashid Mahiya’s parents in Chitungwiza and “seized” his mother as they demanded to know his whereabouts.

Government has accused the CiCZ of having played a part in last week’s chaos although the organisation has robustly denied the claims, which followed after detectives had twice, allegedly harassed its staff.

“Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition national chairperson Rashid Mahiya’s mother . . . Hilda Mahiya was reportedly abducted by soldiers this afternoon at her residence in Unit K, Chitungwiza.

“The soldiers claimed they were looking for son Rashid. As of now we do not have information on her whereabouts, and we are worried about her life.

“We condemn this cowardly and barbaric act by the military which has mutated into a murderous army,” Crisis Coalition regional co-ordinator Blessing Vava said in an alert issued at the weekend.

“In the same vein, we demand her unconditional release, and all other missing persons that have been abducted around the country by the rogue security forces.

“We further reiterate our call to Sadc, AU (African Union) and the international community at large to urgently intervene in the deterioration of human rights and a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.

“Also of major concern is the continued criminalisation of civil society work and the wanton threats of closing down institutions advocating for the supremacy of human rights and entrenchment of democratic processes,” he added.

Outspoken leader of the Association of the Rural Teachers of Zimbabwe (Artuz) Obert Masaraure was allegedly seized at his home on Friday by unknown gunmen before he was dumped near a police station after members of the civic society movement sent out distressed calls.

Yesterday the MDC said several of its MPs in Chitungwiza had gone into hiding as they feared being seized in the on-going government crackdown against dissenting voices.

It said its four MPs — Maxwell Mavhunga (Chitungwiza South), Godfrey Sithole (Chitungwiza North), Goodrich Chimbaira (Zengeza East) and Dickson Tarusenga (St Mary’s) — had fled their homes.

In the case of Sithole, his family members and relatives were said to have fled their homes after suspected security agents allegedly threatened to “deal with them” if they refused to reveal his location.

Mavhunga said his life was in danger and would come out of hiding if his safety was guaranteed by government.

“I am aware that State security agents are looking for me…but I have not committed any offence… however I have been duly informed that it is not the police who have been hunting for me but the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) operatives and the military.

“I am a law abiding citizen and a Member of Parliament not mentioning that I am also a member of Parliamentary Legal Committee. I therefore request that my safety be guaranteed before I can come back and hand over myself,” a distraught Mavhunga told the Daily News.

Government has been accused of unleashing terror on the opposition and pro-democracy movement following riots which broke out last week as thousands of long suffering citizens protested sharp fuel hikes announced by President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

At least 12 people have been killed, 72 shot and wounded while 17 had to undergo emergence life-saving operations during a vicious campaign blamed on the military and police. However, both the military and police have sought to deflect the blame on imposters and deserters.

“Some of these uniforms worn by criminals were seized by rogue elements during the recent riots in Epworth and Chegutu. A case in point is a recent arrest of five armed robbers in Epworth, Harare, on January 14, 2019, who were using police and military regalia to commit armed robberies after hiring vehicles from car rental companies.

“We are therefore giving an ultimatum to individuals who have retired, deserted, absented themselves without official leave (AWOL) from service to immediately handover uniforms either to the police or the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.

“All those who do not comply with this directive will be flushed out by already deployed members of the security services,” said police spokesperson Charity Charamba at the weekend — days after security chiefs blamed the MDC and civic society organisations for the violence.

Meanwhile Nobel Peace laureate and well known South African cleric — Desmond Tutu said he was saddened by the current repression in Zimbabwe — which he said the international community thought had ended with the fall of ousted former leader Robert Mugabe in 2017.

“We, the Tutu Fellows, are alarmed by the growing unrest in Zimbabwe and, most worryingly, by the… government’s reaction to it. The unrest by ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe is in response to a hike in the fuel price… which is now the most expensive in the region.

“We have seen the targeting of individuals perceived to be promoting these protests. Some individuals have been arrested, physically injured and even killed. 

“The Internet and social media shutdown has had the inevitable effect of stifling freedom of expression and the dissemination of information within and across the country’s borders,” said the cleric through the Tutu Leadership Fellows of the African Leadership Institute, a diverse group of civic, political and business leaders from 40 African countries, who are concerned with the governance and development of the continent. 

“We call upon the…government to release all civic leaders and activists who have been arrested and detained over the protests. The duty to de-escalate the tensions rests in the hands of the government.

“We urge restraint by the…government in the handling of the situation and the treatment of …citizens. We also call upon the African Union to closely monitor the developments in Zimbabwe and make decisive interventions to ensure the respect for human rights and the rule of law within the mandate of its Charter.

“The Tutu Fellows stand in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe as they look forward to creating a better Zimbabwe for them and their children,” Tutu Fellows said further.

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