The Zimbabwean government is closely studying a damning new report by Amnesty International (AI) that blames the post-Mugabe administration for using the cover of Covid-19 restrictions to undermine human rights in 2020.
The current establishment led by President Emmerson Mnangagwa wrested power from the late Robert Mugabe with military assistance in late 2017.
Ten people were killed since March 2020 when the government introduced a strict lockdown purported to contain Covid-19, according to the international human rights watchdog.
“The authorities used Covid-19 regulations to justify severe restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“They deployed security forces to abduct, assault and torture perceived critics, and opposition members and leaders. Police and security agents killed at least 10 people,” charged AI in its report covering 2020.
It added that security forces “frequently used excessive force to prevent or crackdown on peaceful protests and to impose lockdown restrictions” and “arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters and others in the context of enforcing Covid-19 measures.”
In the first four months of lockdown, 116,000 people were arrested for violating Covid-19 regulations, said AI.
But Nick Mangwana, the Information permanent secretary and government spokesperson, was terse in his response to the report.
“I am compiling a response (on the AI report),” he told Grazers News, the Information for Development Trust (IDT) news blog.
He did not give more details on the response his ministry was compiling.
In the past, the Zimbabwean government has been dismissive of or hostile to AI and other reports detailing human rights abuses, choosing to label the researchers as “agents of regime change”.
The international watchdog’s latest report says a secret crack team called the Ferrets— comprising the police, army, Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO)—was mainly responsible for the persecution of citizens.
Most of the human rights violations were recorded in Matabeleland, noted AI, with hardly any investigations being conducted to bring the culprits to book.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has indicated that the Joe Biden administration would push for reforms to end human rights abuses in Zimbabwe.