Amnesty urges govt to cease crackdown on activists

Amnesty International on Friday said the level of fear among human rights activists in Zimbabwe has never been greater. The rights group called on the authorities to immediately cease the crackdown on activists perceived to be opponents on President Robert Mugabe's government.

Amnesty said a recent fact-finding mission to the country revealed that activists who exposed human rights violations had themselves become at risk of arrest and torture.

"We have visited Zimbabwe regularly in the last two years, but the level of fear among human rights activists has never been greater. Those who defend an independent judiciary or the right to peacefully express opinions also become themselves the victims of intimidation or unfair legal process. The authorities must enable human rights activists and opposition parliamentarians to work without fear of harassment, arrest or torture," the organisation said in a statement.

The rights group said the recent wave of arrests of opponents of the government appeared to be part of a strategy by the government "to undermine and stifle public protest while the world's attention is focused on the country during the cricket World Cup".

The statement noted that in the past week several members of the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) were arrested and held for several days without being charged.

On 11 January Elias Mudzuri, the mayor of Harare and a member of the MDC was arrested together with 21 councillors and municipal workers for allegedly addressing a political meeting without clearance from the relevant authorities. They were released on 13 January without charge.

Amani Trust, a human rights organisation which works with victims of political violence, received threats to fire-bomb its offices, Amnesty said.

"The international community must not remain silent and allow the Zimbabwean government to continue violating provisions of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which it is a state party," Amnesty said.

Amnesty called on the government to open the country to independent scrutiny by issuing standing invitations to the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

"Those responsible for human rights violations must be brought to justice," the organisation concluded.