Human Rights Groups: Zimbabwe Starving Opposition Leader, Dissident Journalist

Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga (C) and a colleague Julie Barnes hold placards as they are arrested during an anti-corruption protest march along Borrowdale road, on July 31, 2020 in Harare. - Police in Zimbabwe arrested on July 31, 2020 internationally-aclaimed novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga as they enforced a ban on protests …
ZINYANGE AUNTONY/AFP via Getty Images

Human Rights groups in Zimbabwe have accused the country’s prison authorities of starving an opposition leader and dissident journalist after the pair were arrested on dubious charges of trying to overthrow the country’s left-wing regime.

In a statement Sunday, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) claimed that Jacob Ngarivhume and Hopewell Chin’ono were being deprived of their constitutional rights.

“Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) is concerned about the treatment of freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, the leader of Transform Zimbabwe political party, who are currently detained at Chikurubi Maximum Prison,” the statement read.

According to the group, the pair were moved to a different facility on Friday where they were “trip searched and shackled in leg irons.” No authorities informed their families or their lawyers about the transfer.

“Of concern to ZLHR is the welfare of Chin’ono and Ngarivhume who have been left with no access to food as the two do not eat sadza for medical reasons but they were advised that ZPCS only serves sadza in prison,” it continued. “Because both Chin’ono and Ngarivhume are on medication, they would need access to a balanced diet while in prison.”

The two men also reportedly requested warm clothes through their lawyers but did not receive them:

ZLHR also learnt that Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were not provided with jerseys while in detention as prison officers advised that they did not have any more jerseys in stock. Although the two prisoners’ lawyers sought permission to bring in warm clothes as ZPCS has no jerseys, this request was turned down with prison officers insisting that only the red and white prison jersey is allowed and that lawyers have to source the jerseys for the clients.

Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were arrested last month on charges of supposedly urging people to “participate in public violence” after they supported nationwide protests calling to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime. Chin’ono had recently risen to prominence as an investigative journalist uncovering allegations of corruption concerning the procurement of coronavirus supplies by the country’s health ministry.

“The blatant and malicious stripping away of the two prisoners’ basic rights including the right to give instructions to lawyers of their choice in private is unconstitutional,” the statement added. “The harsh treatment of Chin’ono and Ngarivhume undermines the presumption of innocence.”

Having promised to introduce major reforms following the removal of Robert Mugabe in 2017, Mnangagwa has continued to preside over a far-left regime known for its egregious human rights abuses and a major economic and humanitarian crisis. Last November, a United Nations report warned that the country was on the brink of “man-made starvation,” a situation exacerbated by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.

In its summary of Zimbabwe’s human rights record, the New York-based NHO Human Rights Watch states that “despite President Emerson Mnangagwa repeatedly voicing his commitments to human rights reforms, Zimbabwe remained highly intolerant of basic rights, peaceful dissent, and free expression in 2019.”

“During nationwide protests in mid-January, following the president’s sudden announcement of a fuel price increase, security forces responded with lethal force,” the group noted. “In the months that followed, several civil society activists, political opposition leaders, and other critics of the government were arbitrarily arrested, abducted, beaten, or tortured. Little to no efforts were made to bring those responsible for the abuses to justice.”

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