A human rights group in Zimbabwe sounded the alarm this week on the case of 36-year-old prison guard John Mahlabera, facing a disciplinary hearing for allegedly expressing “disloyalty” to President Emmerson Mnangagwa in a tweet.
Mahlabera allegedly referred to Mnangagwa’s election opponent, Movement for Democratic Change – Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party chief Nelson Chamisa, as “my president.”
The group Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights published a press alert on Mahlabera’s situation on Monday, shortly before Mnangagwa announced on Wednesday that the nation would hold a national election on July 30, the first such election since the fall of longtime leftist dictator Robert Mugabe.
“These elections will be free, fair and transparent, and the voice of the people will be heard. I call on all candidates to campaign peacefully and focus on the issues that really matter,” Mnangagwa announced on Twitter.
Declaring it a “fresh clampdown on dissent,” Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights issued a press release detailing Mahlabera’s story. Without providing a Twitter handle, the group claims that Mahlabera is facing a disciplinary hearing at the prison where he works for tweeting at Nelson Chamisa, “come to Chiredzi my president,” inviting him to visit his town.
Officials at the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) contend that the tweet “showed loyalty to Chamisa and disloyalty to President Mnangagwa.” They will make Mahlabera face four witnesses at a hearing to prove that he, in fact, sent the tweet. It is unclear whether he will be arrested or sentenced to any prison time for the tweet.
Rights Lawyers @ZLHRLawyers: #Zimbabwe Prisons recently summoned prison officer John Mahlabera for disciplinary hearing for allegedly showing disloyalty to president @edmnangagwa in a message posted on Twitter. @263chat @matigary @ShepherdYuda1 pic.twitter.com/5tf6Zajgkb
— Dewa Mavhinga (@dewamavhinga) May 28, 2018
Fresh clampdown on dissent as Zim Prisons and Correctional Service charge 36 year-old John Mahlabera for allegedly undermining President Emmerson Mnangagwa through posting some political comments on Twitter. pic.twitter.com/2teaepCf4X
— ZLHR (@ZLHRLawyers) May 28, 2018
The case has triggered new concerns in light of the election now scheduled to take place, likely pitting Mnangagwa and his Zanu-PF party against Nelson Chamisa. Zanu-PF is Mugabe’s party; Mugabe initially ousted Mnangagwa before the Zanu-PF expelled Mugabe and demanded his resignation from the presidency. The party’s leaders have insisted they have no intention of leaving power.
In a particularly egregious incident this weekend, Deputy Finance Minister Terrence Mukupe advised students at a youth political engagement event to not even consider joining the opposition MDC-T if they are interested in a government job in the future. Mukupe had previously stated that Chamisa could never be president because the military would never allow it.
“If you want to join MDC you should know that you will just end up at Harvest House, if you join Zanu PF you should know you will end up at State House,” he told them, according to New Zimbabwe. Harvest House is the headquarters of the opposition party. “This is real; choose a life with high blood pressure by joining MDC or without by joining Zanu PF; it’s just as simple as that.”
“I am not apologetic to say no matter what, come what may, MDC will never rule this country. And some of these things need wisdom, if you want to be part of the ruling elite, you should know which party to join,” he concluded. “So if you want to spend your life shouting MDC slogans, it’s up to you.”
New Zimbabwe notes that Mukupe made the remarks at an event titled “Zimbabwe is Open for Business-Reviving the Economy.”
Mnangagwa’s government has also barred the MDC-T from access to voter rolls, the party alleges. Chamisa told reporters this week that he would sue the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) if his party did not receive equal access to the list of people they could reasonable campaign to.
“MDC-T has written to Zec to be provided with a copy of the voters’ roll. Zec has refused to furnish us with a complete voters’ roll- an analysable provisional copy of the voters’ roll version-but it has insisted on the individual verification of the voters’ roll in different sectors,” MDC-T secretary general Douglas Mwonzora told reporters this week. “In terms of the constitution of Zimbabwe, we are entitled to that information that is necessary for the protection of our rights or defending of our interests.
A poll released Wednesday by the Kenya-based network of African scholars found that Mnangagwa is the overwhelming favorite in any upcoming elections, according to Zimbabwe’s the Herald. The poll found that 70 percent of voters would choose Mnangagwa if elections were held today (Wednesday).